Ticketing Times and more Teenage Misadventure

This little ticket office was the job of my dreams as a teenager. In the heart of Oxford Circus, it was a tiny and mysterious little shop who’s windows were all but obscured by hand written, multi coloured cards advertising the gigs coming up that month.
A couple of years before I worked there it had been a regular stop off on our way to the arcades at the Trocodero, Piccadilly Circus. Too young to go to clubs, and not yet convincingly 18 looking enough to frequent pubs and bars, our choice Saturday night out was ‘Central’ hanging out on Nelson’s column and endlessly traipsing the streets, often with a bottle of coke that was mostly cheap whiskey.
This was slightly later than the -telling my mum I was going to the cinema and instead traipsing the streets of Hendon drinking Hooch lemonade- stage, a period of my life that culminated in a dramatic trip to City and Westminster Hospital after having an ill advised vodka drinking competition, with the kids of Russian ambassadors, round the back of a church in High Street Kensington. My God! Who would be a parent? It seems to me having other places to go would probably have been a good idea, but then I suppose there were youth clubs. We just didn’t want to go to them. To a fourteen year old, the streets of London were the most grown up place to be, the freedom of the underground meant everywhere had a journey and a purpose. Having now seen my little brother spend his teenage years in a small town in Norfolk, part of me envies his endless traipsing across fields with friends and drunken encounters with trees and cows, but somehow London was our place.

What to do with teenagers? I dread the day my 14 year old daughter tells me she’s going to the late showing of some rubbish film at the cinema that finishes unfeasibly late and that so and so’s mum will give her a lift back or that she’ll be staying at such and such’s house but not to call such and such’s mum because she suffers from chronic cluster headaches and the noise of the phone could set them off. Or some other such nonsense.
I digress, at the far more sensible and grand old age of 16, my first job when I went to college was in this much-fabled ticket shop. A tiny little cupboard of an office, it consisted of a counter in front of a wedge shaped area lined with a shelf that constituted a desk, with 4 phones and 4 chairs. Above the desk were shelves of shoeboxes filled with bits of paper that were, shockingly enough, people’s ticket bookings. Had this been 1974 perhaps this would have been more acceptable but in 1999 to not have computers in one of the most prominent ticket booking offices in London seemed mental! Customers would call and I would answer with the obligatory ‘Hello ticket office’ (said in the most ditzy voice possible as is expected of anyone who works on a switchboard). The customer would then state the concert he or she wanted to see, or more often than not the concert they were booking for their teenage credit-card-less child. Hearing a middle aged mum stuttering ‘two tickets to… um…. Godspeed You Black… um …Emperor’ was a classic. I would slide my finger down that week’s printed list and attempt to make sure I got the right price for the right venue in amongst all the tipex and crossings out.  Then I would grab a crudely cut out form and scribble down the customer’s most personal of details, before filing them away in a shoe box while the whole time the customer innocently assumed that their valuable data was being safely deposited in a nice reliable computer system. Oh how little they knew! Heaven forbid anyone spilt a cup of tea! I distinctly remember numerous moments of passing a form around the office while everyone took turns at trying to decipher the smeared numbers with 3’s turning into 8’s before our very eyes.

The ticket office was overseen by the fantastic pairing of, lets call them, Shazza and Dave, cockerney as all get out and if they weren’t a couple they bloody well should have been. Shaz, I will never forget for as long as I live. Her standard greeting was ‘Alright Gorgeous Fing?’ and her no nonsense attitude was hilarious and a bit terrifying all at the same time. Saturdays were hectic and Wednesday afternoons dead. It turns out every 6th form in London had Wednesday afternoons off for sport. I didn’t know this and used it to make money instead. I’ve always preferred making money to playing sports.
By far and away the best perk was finding the small gigs that no one else knew about. I took my then boyfriend to a secret Foo Fighters gig at the Scala for only 200 people. With us both being massive Foo Fighters fans and the tiny amount of people there, it was the most intimate and exciting gig I’d been to, and from a band who were big enough at the time to fill Brixton Academy twice. The pair of us pushed our way through and deposited ourselves right there in the in the front row. At one magical moment Dave Grohl purposefully picked up his mic stand and placed it right in front of where we were squished up against the barrier and dedicated the song ‘I’ll Stick Around’ to the two of us because ‘we looked happy’. Oh my God! Can you feel my teenage heart pounding? How bloody romantic! Needless to say the boy broke my heart and the Foo Fighters got old, but what a moment, and all thanks to the Little Ticket Office.

Grange Hill, Goths and Gucci Sunglasses!

Two summers, 1998 and 1999, I was an extra, sorry background artist, In Grange Hill. Grange Hill was staple TV for kids from the 70’s onwards but to be honest I never watched it, even after I’d been in it I couldn’t really be bothered, as far as I was concerned it was about a load of annoying and bitchy kids at school and it was on at just about the time I’d just got back from spending the day with a bunch of annoying and bitchy kids at my own school.

It was a bit like Children’s Ward, the most boring kids TV program ever to be invented, who’s idea was it to set a kid’s soap in a hospital and how depressing can you get? Oh no little jonny’s got his head stuck in some railings, that’s great fun for a Thursday afternoon. If I had to choose a children’s soap (and why do children need soaps, surely the whole point of kids tv is to inspire young minds before the drudgery of the day to day kicks in and they start watching Eastenders in order make their own lives appear comparatively happy and fulfilled!) I’d take Biker Grove anyday at least they had Geordie accents and PJ and Dunken! It’s no wonder they all got cancelled!

‘Doing’ Grange Hill was like a right of passage at the after school theatre group I went to. I had begged my mum to let me go to a proper Theatre School since I was tiny but it was never really an option due to the fact I had been very good at maths and science and she, sensibly really in retrospect, wanted me to get good GCSE’s over big hair and jazz hands, however, little did she know that given the first opportunity I would dump the maths and science anyway and throw myself blindly down that same track we’d avoided, putting me the best part of 10 years behind all the stage school brats, ahem kids, I’d be up against at auditions in later life. Damn you academia! So as a compromise I attended a Theatre Group every Thursday for a couple of years, until I went to college and discovered recreational drugs, where pretty much everything else went by the wayside.

The appealing thing about the Drama group, apart from the fact it gave me social options that didn’t involve the monstrous harpies I went to school with, was that she was also an agent and did indeed find people professional work, albeit Sunny delight Ads and Family Affairs bit parts, but I’d have gladly throttled a puppy to do either of those. This seemed like a dream come true and after some words of encouragement from the lovely agent, even throwing me a passing ‘oooh you’re like a young Kate Winslet’ (good god woman don’t say that to a girl who’s been dreaming of being an Oscar winning actress all her life) I started going to auditions. This was in the pre X factor days and I’m pretty sure ‘celebrity’ wasn’t a job option then, most of my friends wanted to be lawyers or doctors, some wanted to be musicians but I didn’t know many wannabe pop stars. Imagine my surprise when I came face to face at every audition with 20 girls who look a bit like me but thinner and with sparklier teeth and triple threat training (sing, dance and act for those sensible enough not to know the lingo), needless to say my teenage ego took a major battering and I didn’t get any of the jobs, except for a non speaking part in a PlayStation ad that didn’t even get shown in England. However it paid, so it counts!

Despite all this, I did a little bit of Grange Hill two years in a row.  The first year I was quite shy and remember spending my first £60 cheque on a massive green hoody, that I subsequently wore for years and years, till it was completely threadbare and five times bigger than it was when I bought it. By the second summer I was sixteen, more confident, smoked far to much weed to be able to get too stressed about anything, had a nice group of friends and was quite sorted since I’d gotten away from the girls school hell I’d been inhabiting. My starring moment was eating cheese and onion crisps in the fake school canteen but the most mortifying point by far was not being allowed to wear the coveted GH uniform because me and C had been out in Camden the night before at the Electric Ballroom, which was the only club that would let us in and had been letting us in for ages before that, and some bloody goth bloke had sucked the most massive lovebite you have ever seen onto my neck, much to the disgust of the GH wardrobe lady! So there was me with a giant hicky wearing a really unattractive grey poloneck that was about six sizes too big for me. Marvellous. As an aside, It turns out that the boy who was sucking my neck would keep turning up as an extra in my life, never in any way related to me, I made a point of never speaking to or going anywhere near him ever again, but apparently a few years later he gave a friend of a friend crabs thusly braking up her long term relationship. I have seen him since from afar and he has to be one of the least attractive men I have ever seen. Ah youth!

So Grange Hill was not, needless to say, my big break, however I did have lunch with Sonia from Eastenders one day, now as much as I bombast the child-soaps of my youth, I have always watched Eastenders, It’s been over twenty years of following a soap opera. My mum used to watch it when she came home from work and I have always known all the characters, so eating with Sonia, well, I felt like I’d grown up with Sonia, it was the most natural thing in the world. Am I the first generation who can say that they have actually spent their whole life following a soap opera? There’s got to be some Coronation Street kids out there who are decades older than me, surely. So back to Sonia, I was the only person in the Grange Hill group over 16 and didn’t need tutoring so just hung around in the Elstree canteen marvelling at how short everyone was. Sonia from Eastenders, as she will always been known to me, was very lovely, friendly and wore Gucci sunglasses, however when I asked her if she was going to do A levels, we were the same age at the time and probably still are, she told me upfront that she was on £800 an episode and didn’t need to. That was when Eastenders was only on 3 times a week, quickly doing the maths I realised that there could even be some money in this acting malarky. Needless to say… there certainly hasn’t been so far!

Pee Ah, Pee Ah, Pee Ah Dahhhhlings…

Still on the early days here… It’s been a long old journey, only 14 years til we get to the afore mentioned escaped Chilean rats!

So who would have ever thought that my GCSE work experience would be one of my biggest missed opportunities career wise? Somehow my mum set me up with 2 weeks in a PR company, I can’t remember what they were called, but now that I’m older I’ve realised it was proper Cosmopolitan-magazine-dream-work-land! One of my jobs was to work out a slogan for a Bailys promotion that linked in with Sex and The City. Nowadays that seems like the perfect job for me but I hated it; I wanted to be Courtney Love not Sarah Jessica Parker!

I hated the office environment and wrote moody poems about the constant drone of the whirring computers turning everyone into automatons. This attitude stayed with me for years and years and I did everything I possibly could to stay out of, my perceived view, of the stale and stuffy atmosphere of an office and succeeded, it did however mean that in the lull after uni while everyone was getting higher and higher paid computer based work, I was stuck in retail with a chip on my shoulder about people who work in offices. I think I still have that mentality really but I’m a little more prepared to suck it up for cold hard cash these days but now no one will hire me because I don’t have enough experience thus proving carrying a chip through your working career only ever leads to starchy shoulders!

Still when I remember that place it makes me think of Devil Wears Prada swankiness crossed with Nathan Barley trendiness, of course none of those things existed then. Oh how different my life could have been if I’d given it a chance. They did have a screening room though which was very cool, in fact in retrospect I’d quite like to slap 15 year old me for not lapping it up. I’m sure I did well though, I was too much of a swot to be a proper rebel and was probably quite useful in the week and half I was there, I think I may not have gone back for the last few days, which turned out to be quite a routine throughout my working career; abruptly leaving jobs I hated became something of my forte…