I’m on the later shift at the record shop today, this morning I almost put on my Paranoid Android T-shirt but changed my mind at the last moment. It is busy in the shop all morning. At lunchtime, I eat a sandwich in the Botanic Gardens and when I come back at 2.30pm, I go back behind the counter. I look up to find myself face to face with a man with a beard. It’s Thom.
And HE says, “What are you doing here?!”
He’s grown the colour out of his hair. He’s got a big khaki coat on. He’s got a hand full of records and he’s grinning at me.
When I remember to breathe, I realise I’m not dreaming, I’m at work and I’ll have to reach the vinyl down from the shelf. He’s got Squarepusher, Plasticman and Arab Strap albums and several more techno 12 inches that I have to find. I slow down. Over the last couple of days I’ve developed a fast pace, this is a busy shop. I have to look for the records but I want to look at him to make sure he’s really here. He comes round the side to the vinyl counter and as I get the discs down from the shelf he puts them in the sleeves. I’m glad, because at this point my hands are no longer responding to signals from my brain. Someone else leans over asking for a listening copy of something (there is a deck on the counter with headphones so people can listen to the 12s, we get a lot of DJs and techno fans in), he doesn’t notice who he’s pushing out of the way.
We must have been talking because he tells me he’s up here visiting a friend for his 30th birthday. I tell him I just started this job, he asks me if this means I’ve graduated and I tell him I got a 2:1.
He tells me they’re staying at the local posh hotel, which he’s quite amused about, it’s his birthday treat. I must have asked him how things are going because he says, “It took me three months to be a normal human being again.”
I ring the records in the till and he produces a large roll of notes from his pocket to pay. I don’t want him to go yet, we’re still talking, I go around the counter so I don’t have to serve anyone else. (No one else in the shop at this point has recognised him, he looks different with the beard and longer hair) He mentions Paris and I ask him why they are playing it and he starts to say “Well, Amnesty….”
I know that, I say, but the rest of the bill is a bit dubious… He agrees, he feels a bit dodgy because the other bands are “a bit crap apart from ADF. But if we don’t do it now we never will. We’re getting to like not playing live.”
“That will never do.” I say. We both pull a face.
“Where did you hear about it anyway?” he asks, surprised I know about the show.
“Caffy,” I tell him. “And I get email from Max.” My spies are everywhere, I’m not sure if I actually said that out loud.
“Oh,” he says, “You’ve got an email then? I’ll give you mine.”
I dive back behind the counter to get the only available paper, the stickers we use to mark damaged records, and a pen. He scrawls his email address on one and I write mine on another and we swap.
The Mercury Rev album Deserter’s Songs is playing in the shop. We’ve been playing it everyday and it’s selling well. “What is this?” he asks. Jane, the manager, is passing by at that moment, probably keeping an eye on me, and she tells him.
“Oh I’ll have that,” says Thom to me, “Colin told me about it.”
I hurtle off across the shop to get a vinyl sleeve, but when I get back he’s changed his mind and would rather have it on CD. He pays cash again and I say something about not knowing how to give him a staff discount yet. “It’s OK,” he says, “It’s my job.”
I want him to stay a bit longer. I ask him how big the Paris gig is going to be and he tells me it’s about 150,000 capacity.
“Oh piece of cake then!” I raise my eyebrows.
“You’re staying in Glasgae then?” he asks, doing a Scottish accent.
“Looks like it.” I shrug.
“Well,” he says, “It’s better than London here.” We talk a bit more but he has to meet Rachel and their friend. I give him a hug before he goes.
I disappear into the back room and drink a glass of water. I try to regain some hold on reality. I hide the sticker in my bag and then I go back onto the shop floor. About half an hour later, when the shop is less busy, my friends Nigel and Kath come in. Before he says anything else, Nigel asks me “Have you seen him?”
When I reply in the affirmative he says “Thank God for that, we’d have got you the sack if you’d have had to run out of the shop.” It turned out they’d just seen him in Ashton Lane, not far from the shop. They only knew it was him when they heard one of his companions call his name. He had bags from every one of the five record shops in the area.
I have to work until 7pm, and it’s all I can do to hold myself together. At the end of the day the manager gives me a beer, she wasn’t sure who it was I was talking to but when I confirm it, she was characteristically only concerned about how much money he was spending. “He’s loaded isn’t he?”
I wonder what it would be like if I could just phone the hotel and take them all out for a drink, like they were friends of mine. It is not going to happen.
I’d had dreams where I’d taken Thom shopping, (like the girls did in Tokyo) but this felt even stranger than those. The job (which I have for the next 6 months) never quite recovers from this moment.
*I know, I know I’ve done it again, but at the time it had been so long since there had been a tour that it counted as a “hit”.