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.