Cover-aggedon – Part Two
There is a scene in the famous film Clerks, which follows a day in the life of two American shop employees, where they observe a character they call The Egg Man who’s a crazed guidance councillor that comes in searching through all the cartons determined to find the perfect dozen eggs. And I thought of that scene as I stood by the counter in WHSmith that day; raised hart rate, nervous sweat on my brow, desperate for my next hit – maintaining a complete collection of all the Doctor Who covers of the Radio Times – when I found only space where the magazines should have been.
I made to leave, but as I walked empty-handed by the regular guy on the till I felt obliged to proffer some sort of explanation, in an attempt to appear less like an obvious shoplifter, and went through the motions of suggesting that they had sold out. Mistaking me for a normal customer was his error as he pounced on a slot by his till and pulled out exactly what I was looking for.
He probably expected me to appreciate his customer service. What he surely didn’t anticipate was for the reply: “No, I don’t want that one. I’ve gotta check them all.”
Which is what, before his very eyes, I proceeded to do. It did turn out that the first one might have been the best, but I swapped it for another anyway, as I didn’t want to lose face in front of this guy who would soon no doubt be recanting tales of his very own Egg Man.
I may have achieved a similar reputation in Tesco, on occasion, as I was in there once buying some packets of biscuits when I had the couple of men in front of me comment: “There’s a man who likes biscuits”. When I explained that the few packets I had were for the foxes who pass through the garden during the night it seemed to blow their tiny little minds as if they’d just hallucinated a strange Dr. Dolittle character in front of them.
I didn’t think it was so odd. Running a shelter for homeless foxes is an emotionally rewarding role, even though it doesn’t pay well, or even amount to minimum wage, and so every night I deposit the cats’ collected leftovers and some dog food on a plate and scatter a selection of cheap supermarket-brand custard creams and bourbons around the garden. I’ve found that you can put a carved Christmas turkey carcass out and, no matter how big, it’s always gone in the morning. The grizzly remains probably ending up in somebody else’s garden as someone else’s problem.
Strangely enough the comedian Richard Herring had a similar experience in a Sainsbury’s Local when he bought some yoghurts and got the sarcastic comment from the girl on the till: “Someone likes yoghurt”, before lifting his basket to show the girl at the next check-out and adding: “Look at all the yoghurts”. Richard Herring got a blog entry, a stand-up tour, and a DVD out of this experience. I expect I won’t.
When I got to the front of the queue to my favourite checkout girl, the very talkative lucid-skinned blonde-haired Hannah, I inquired about what I’d witnessed with the biscuit-men’s transaction: she informed me conspiratorially that the mighty Tesco empire had run out of carrier-bags.
The staff had been told by management that as they’d – supposedly – gone through 75,000 bags in 4 days, and as the shop had overspent: they weren’t allowed any more. Yeah, that should teach ‘em!
So, I was told, the store had phoned around their local sister-shops, seeking charity, to be told to bugger off. What the branch had dredged up from somewhere was a small amount of see-through wafer-thin carrier bags for flowers. They were so thin that I’d seen Hannah give the guys in front of me a couple to double-bag their expensive bottles of spirits; not that they seemed to care as they were still chuckling about my biscuit story, telling blondie: “wait until you hear why he’s got so many biscuits”.
I’m definitely in there.
On a subsequent visit to Tesco I saw that the man queuing behind me had four large tins of Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls. As one small tin is probably the average Joe’s lifetime supply I felt compelled to ejaculate: “There’s a man who likes mint balls!” However, I got flashbacks to the biscuit incident and so I left the mint ball man in peace and just paid for my digestives.
But that was the least of my problems. I had an addiction, and it was only getting worse as I’d been keeping up with this Radio Times nonsense for fifteen years now and with my amassed collection I had over fifty pristine issues hanging around for which I kept having to buy more plastic boxes to store them in. Fifty issues that were never even used to tell what was on TV when they were relevant, but fifty issues that represented a complete representation of every Who cover since my limited edition postcard set had been released. However the crunch was looming and then, in 2013, Cover-ageddon happened.
Cover-ageddon: my worst imaginings were confirmed when I found out that for the programme’s fiftieth anniversary the Radio Times were going to celebrate each and every actor who’d taken the lead role in the series over the past half a century and for that week they were going to release twelve different covers featuring everyone from William Hartnell to John Hurt. Twelve. Even if I could find them, and it was a big if, it’d cost twenty quid for the full whack.
You can’t just spend twenty pounds on something which is, effectively, pointless without a twinge of absurdity. Even if that’s twenty pounds for a solid three-and-a-half inches of TV listings magazines, not forgetting the additional cost to preserve them for future generations. I do appreciate the irony in that sentence as at this rate it’ll be my goddaughter inheriting them. She’s sure to get a shock during the reading of my will, as the solicitor brings out several vacuum-sealed plastic boxes, but she’ll sure know what was on TV between 1999 and 2013.
There I was wishing I was addicted to heroin, but twelve covers in one go was my equivalent of an overdose, and I may be gullible but I reckoned that I wasn’t that far gone yet. I remember the Christmas edition of the Lee and Herring Radio One Show, from back in the nineties when proper radio comedy existed, where they played the John Lennon song Cold Turkey under the auspices that it was about Boxing Day leftovers. How I laughed. Well I’m not laughing any more. It was time to break the cycle of dependency. It was time to go cold turkey.
Once I’d made this decision the biggest thing that helped was in actually seeing them. It could have been something beautiful to behold but I’m guessing that as the official mouthpiece of the BBC since 1923 was sold off in 2011, so they could “focus more on digital media”, I imagine that the hardnosed company running the Radio Times now opted for actor pictures for which they already owned the rights as the final result appeared to be a money-saving atrocity.
Relying on images from previous Radio Times photo shoots resulted in the first half of the twelve-part panorama featuring some actor’s images that were taken decades after they’d appeared on TV with the most shocking cover featuring a photo taken just before, or maybe just after, the actor in question passed away. Seeing this I started feeling that everything was going to be OK.
All I had to do was hold out for seven days, whilst it was still possible to relent and go rifling through newsagents’ shelves, and during that time I began monitoring Twitter chatter in the hope of finding the fan backlash for the shoddy effort. Instead I found talk of the many people taking on the quest of finding the whole dozen. It turns out I’m not so alone after all. I went out to buy a single copy, for normal television use, and found the shelves empty. I bet they made a killing.
It was somewhere about this point, with my limited edition postcard set now sixty-odd images incomplete, that I realised I wasn’t even too sure where that was any more, having given up any attempt to get them framed a long time ago. I seem to have become so swept up in proceedings that I’ve lost sight of what was supposedly important in the first place.
I’m a recovering addict now, on the wagon, a phrase I’ve never understood, and thus immune to the lure of each new edition as they appear. The other day I just happened to see someone selling a bundle similar to my collection on eBay; I’d never before contemplated the fortune upon which I may now be sat upon, thanks to my diligent efforts. They sold, I noted, with one bid, for ninety-nine pence. The Radio Times there: not necessarily a bankable investment. Only don’t forget, as the adverts used to say: other listings-magazines are available. Just, for god’s sake, whatever you do, do not get me started on them… I’m just going to fall back on my other addictions to crisps and chocolate. I told you: worst writer ever.