The Time I Was Mold's Public Enemy Number One

 

To this day I’ve no idea whether there was something in the air of Mold, whether it was the greenness of the Sixth Form tie at Ysgol Maes Garmon (YMG), whether it was the fact that YMG was a Welsh speaking high school or that I was a second language pupil at the school that seemed to make retail premises go stark staring bonkers at the sight of me in those Sixth Form days. I’d like to think there is a better, more reasonable explanation for me being asked to leave the premises of 3 (three!) different retailers in the town within a short couple of months but I can’t think of any. If anything I was probably conspicuous by my complete lack of unruliness throughout my teenage years, so maybe it was the shock of seeing me around the town at all that led to some of the town’s inhabitants doing what Billy Connolly would describe as ‘going all Rita Hayworth’ and making me feel like Public Enemy Number 1. After all, the crimes I got accused of committed were hardly heinous and, in the case of the dishevelled looking middle-aged woman that accused me of ‘eating a banana in a suggestive manner’ in Woolworths, were just plain fanciful. I mean, yes, I was eating a banana in the store but ‘in a suggestive manner’? I’m still at a loss as to what she meant. If truth be known, if she was a woman with that kind of thing on her mind then I would have greatly appreciated her elaborating. Any port in a storm at that age when you’re practically just one big walking hormone! To my disappointment, not only didn’t I get any further details from her warped mind but before I could leave the store she had managed to summon the store manager. He was by this perverted woman’s side when she made the accusation and, in spite of my protestations that I had no clue what she was on about, I was asked to leave the shop. In the passage of years between then and now I can’t remember whether I was formally barred from Woolies but I remember that I definitely did get barred from two other prominent retailers in the town. When I got barred from the Mold branch of the Somerfield supermarket chain it was, quite unbelievably, another banana related incident.

 

It’s probably only the scriptwriters of Bourne movies that would utter the phrase ‘he only went in to buy a banana and then all manner of public pandemonium ensued’, but on this occasion that’s what actually happened to me. I headed to the store with a few of my fellow sixth formers at dinner time. Unlike most of my mates I was only in the store to get myself a banana and, always eager to obey my Dad’s instructions of ‘if you’re going to have one, have a big un!’ (which in my Dad’s logic seemed to apply to everything from hats to desserts and everything in between) I got myself the largest banana available. One of my classmates, Sarah, was particularly impressed with the size and girth of the thing in a way that suggested that even at that age she knew a thing or two about bananas. It wasn’t far off the size of a marrow! Having located and paid for my admirably proportioned banana I then had to await my fellow classmates as they faffed around getting not-as-essential items like dinner and drinks for the rest of the day. I waited outside but their sluggishness took me back into the store to hurry them toward the checkouts. Why I chose to do so in a manner similar to Sean Connery’s depiction of James Bond stalking an enemy and by creeping along the tops of aisles before rounding and stepping into the aisles while adopting a shooting stance with banana aimed down the aisle remains a mystery even to me. Maybe I had a natural sense of the dramatic in those days. I’ve definitely always had a fondness for making people laugh and so I could have just been trying to bring a smile to someone’s face. Maybe in those days I even believed that oft-repeated urban myth that women are sexually attracted to men that make them laugh (as someone that frequently makes women laugh I can state with confidence that is not the case!) and was trying to make the most ludicrous attempt at flirting the world has ever seen.

 

 

Whatever my reasoning was I soon discovered that my efforts weren’t appreciated by everyone. Someone that definitely didn’t seem amused or sexually attracted to me was the female store assistant that took exception to my ‘sneaking’ around the aisles and pretending to use that banana as a golden gun with which to cajole my fellow students once I’d found them. As she grabbed hold of my collar I protested that I was merely trying to hurry them along but was told that I hadn’t paid for the banana anyway. I then produced the receipt, by which time the shop manager was in attendance, looking weirdly disappointed that I hadn’t actually been shoplifting. He told me that if I had completed my business then I should have left the shop. By now my somewhat bemused classmates began speculating at what the hell I could have done to deserve such a public shaming. I couldn’t help but smirk and chuckle at the thought of explaining the reason to them later.

 

At this point I should explain that I WAS A SOMERFIELD EMPLOYEE at that time! I was working as a shelf-stacker at Somerfield in Connah’s Quay, no more than 5 miles away, during the evenings after school and genuinely didn’t wish to cause any kind of inter-store kerfuffle with my first ‘proper’ employers. To the extent that I informed the angry store manager that now confronted me, who looked to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, so that his nerves would be calmed. Instead, the words ‘I work in the Connah’s Quay store’ appeared to somehow antagonise him. I could see him looking at my impressively sized banana and visibly getting more agitated. “You may work in that store,” he said, as if there was some kind of tribal rivalry between the two, “but you’ll never set foot in here again as long as I’m in charge!” This was terrible news for the Mold branch of Somerfield, who had just lost out on approximately 60p per week in fruit sales. It was also awkward for me as I didn’t know whether I needed to disclose this to the manager at my branch of Somerfield as it may jeopardise my role earning £1.76 per hour (pre-minimum wage days back then!) three evenings per week and, more importantly, I had no idea where else did such gigantic ‘nanas!

 

 

Incredibly that wasn’t the last time I was barred from a Mold retailer. I already mentioned that YMG, where I was a pupil and then sixth former, was a Welsh speaking high school. I was particularly adept at learning the Welsh language and retain an admirable level of fluency to this day and so during the sixth form I was studying Welsh for A-level. As part of the curriculum we studied Hedd Wyn, the acclaimed First World War film that became first ever Welsh language film to be nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 1993 Academy Awards. For some reason I had missed out on seeing the film when it was shown to our class and so asked if I could borrow it. Happily I was granted permission but on the strict understanding that this was kept ‘under the radar’ by the teacher. It wasn’t usually permitted for such VHS tapes to be allowed off the premises, especially not this film. Not only would this be studied by students for many future years due to the context of the film’s importance to contemporary Welsh language but this was the school’s only copy. Heaven forbid that anything should happen to it!

 

I thought it was a bit strange that the tape was an ‘unofficial’ copy that someone had presumably taped from S4C. I found it stranger still that the tab had been left on the front of the tape which, in theory, would make it easier for the the film to be accidentally recorded over. I considered removing the tab myself but had I done so it could lead to uncomfortable questions from eagle-eyed teachers about who had removed it and when. And so I left it on. After all, it would take some startling example of absent-minded buffoonery for anything to happen to the tape. All I had to do was insert tape, watch movie, eject tape. Easy!

 

Whatever exactly happened has since been forgotten but somehow the tape was used to record the highlights of the cricket.

 

This was not good. Upon realising what had happened I think I was probably one of the few teenagers that could have truly empathised with the guy that discovered the explosion in reactor number 4 at Chernobyl. I was mortified! Imagine being a teacher having prepared an entire A-level syllabus focussing on this film. You gather the students around to watch it, having previously informed them not only of who Hedd Wyn was but also the significance of the Eisteddfod in the era the film was set, the career of the actors and importance of the production to modern day Welsh speaking communities. You’ve somehow got the class engaged and you’re confident they can watch the film and appraise it in a way that will lead to a qualification held forever. It could lead to further academic studies, well-paid jobs and a life of fulfilment. You press play, feeling a little glow that you’re actually making a difference to the youth of today in a number of different ways merely by showing them….Mike Atherton being trapped LBW after an ill-judged attempt to leave a ball that straightened.

 

 

Make no mistake I was genuinely the villain of the piece here. I felt remorse immediately, maybe even shame. I’d had so much trust placed in me and I’d blown it. I knew instinctively what I had to do to put things right: cover everything up, delay revealing what had happened and blatantly lie if anyone asked any awkward questions. After all, if I was to tell the truth then it would possibly prevent any of my fellow students from borrowing such things in future. It was a scenario that became a mighty burden and one that my family became unwitting confidantes in. My Taid was asked if he had a copy of the film. After all, he spoke Welsh as a first language and was from the same neck of the woods as the lead actor in the film. He actually came into the class one day, causing great amusement to several of the girls present as they’d seen his penis (the actor, not my Taid) in one of the notable scenes in the film and was a friend of our teacher. Unfortunately Taid didn’t have a copy. Neither did his friends. The only time S4C was showing it had adverts included so taping another copy off the TV wasn’t an option. We phoned libraries, we phoned S4C, we rang around shops and attempted to order it. This was before the internet was a thing so sourcing a copy that I could pick up locally was proving difficult. In desperation I headed to Siop Y Siswrn (which translates as “The Scissors Shop”) in Mold to ask if they had a copy. Siop Y Siswrn was always a safe bet to find something Welsh in the town as it is a Welsh language craft shop. They do speak English but not to anyone wearing an YMG uniform which, weirdly, we still had to do even in the sixth form.

 

My mate Scott was with me as we entered the premises and I asked if they had a copy of Hedd Wyn. I’d confided in Scott what the mission was as I was so confident I would find what was required. He shared in my delight when the proprietor confirmed that they did have the film and then took even greater amusement at my awkwardness when I studied the box only to confirm that this copy of the film had English subtitles. That would have been as bad as taping over it! I could see the revulsion that awaited me, forever to be remembered as ‘That Lad That Sabotaged The School’s Only Copy Of Hedd Wyn By Somehow Putting English Subtitles On It’. It could be seen as some sort of low level treason, attempting to Anglicise the school and sabotage A-level Welsh studies. It was something to avoid and so I sheepishly asked if they had a copy without subtitles. Scott started to laugh and insisted (addressing me in English) that I explain why I wanted one without the subtitles. His amusement led me to start laughing too because, well, it was an uncomfortable situation but not without amusement.

 

What followed continues to flummox me to this day. The owner of the shop flew into what can only be described as an almighty rage, actually grabbing hold of me by the collar and forcibly ejecting me from the premises like a street urchin being turfed out of a soup kitchen for helping himself to an extra barmcake. My protests on the way out were in vain and both Scott and me stood bewildered on the street, being shooed away by what had only moments ago been a mild mannered shopkeeper that now seemed to have become possessed by the spirit of Denzel Washington’s character in the film Man On Fire. As we retreated he shouted after us that we were never to come back. Great! I’d now been barred from 3 premises in Mold, once for eating a banana, once for buying a banana and once for laughing in a craft shop.

 

 

After regaining our composure we made our way back to the common room but before I could share the experience with my fellow sixth formers the Head of Year Euryn Williams was awaiting us. He beckoned us into his office with a grave tone that suggested something serious had happened. We wondered what it could be and feared the worst. I tried to think whether or not I’d seen any law enforcement activity in the grounds of the school as we came back. I certainly hadn’t noticed any areas cordoned off. What followed was a lecture about the importance of the school’s reputation in the local community, especially to the school governors of which the owner of Siop Y Siswrn was one. Ahhhh, it made sense now! Of course he’d rang the Headmaster to complain who had then reported Scott and me to the Head of Sixth Form to force us to make a grovelling apology, which we flatly refused to do. I had to come clean about the circumstances for our being there, which was well received enough. “Well that was stupid of you. We’ll get another copy of the film,” I was told. We were then told that yes, the owner of the shop had overreacted and that yes, based on our testimony it was unfair that we had to apologise but to retain the good name of the school we were asked to do so. Which we grudgingly did by letter and not face to face as we had been originally requested to do so.