The following is an excerpt from my next book, Kismet Quick: a travelogue/guide/ramble/rant through 40 of Norfolk’s towns and villages (I’ve visited each via public transport). Kismet Quick is now available to buy here. Check this site for regular updates & follow the journey in photographs here
Just off North Walsham high street is a concrete precinct. In the boom of the late 90s (when we all wore Union Jack mini skirts and sawed cows in half whilst listening to Kula Shaker), the precinct used to have a sports shop, a jewellers, a kind of youth orientated guidance office and a mattress/bed store. None of these appealed to me in my younger years (nor would they now) and my memories of them are only half visible. What the precinct did have, however, and my memories of it are in bright, 3D technicolour with smellovision, was a video shop called Cash Cut. It had been ten years since I last walked through this precinct. With a hint of sadness, I discovered Cash Cut had gone. A café stood in its stead. Ditto for the mattress shop. The other premises were empty. England will soon become one big eatery.
Cash Cut was incredible. It was a video shop that also sold trainers. Think about that. On reflection, maybe it was a trainer shop that also sold videos. I don’t know what their priorities were. I don’t think anybody did. You’d walk in and be drawn to one of two things: either a wooden staircase up to the ‘video room’ or a wall full of new-ish looking Reebok Pumps. What a choice! I’d always wondered whether anyone ever left with both a new pair of shoes and a video:
‘I’d like the Nike Air in a twelve and a copy of Shadowlands, please.’
‘Ok, sir, lovely. That will be £79.65.’
On each wooden stair was a pink sticker shaped like an alien’s footprint, leading the way to the top. They were promotional stickers for the 1988 film Mac & Me, a genuine contender for the worst film ever made. Ever. The last time I went into Cash Cut was 2004. The stickers were still there.
Cash Cut’s upstairs video room was big and creaky and smelt alarmingly like damp carpet. The shelf containing the ‘latest releases’ was at the very top of the stairs. It was the first thing you saw. It was always the emptiest shelf. Like all local video shops, latest releases were hardly ever in stock. Some other bastard got to them first. I don’t know why but I always envisaged the bastard in question to be a morbidly obese twenty-something, sitting in an armchair in his dirty flat, laughing out loud to himself with a mouth full of wet popcorn. In my mind, he hadn’t even put the video in the machine, he was just using it to hit his dogs with. What an arsehole. (It speaks volumes about me that I harbour a grudge against a man who didn’t even exist.)
Cash Cut would stock, at the very most, two copies of the blockbusters, and one of everything else. By the time I’d seen a film from the ‘latest releases’ shelf, the sequel was out. I wasn’t aware there was more than one Police Academy until about 2003.
Aside from the empty ‘latest releases’ shelf, the rest of the videos were stocked roughly according to genre. There were no signs up saying which section was which, you just had to try and make it out by looking at the covers. The only genre this didn’t really apply to was the Adult section; these films were littered about the place with gay abandon. (I think Gay Abandon was one of the titles.) Other than that, there was a Horror section (Children of the Corn, The Leprechaun, Child’s Play, Sexy Grannies etc), a Romance section (Four Weddings, Mannequin, Ghost, Daylight Nobbery etc) and a Children’s section (Aladdin, The Lion King, Watership Down, Asian Rutting 7 etc). There was also a section that easily have been called the Fuck Knows section. This had films such as Toxic Avenger and Raymond Briggs’ When The Wind Blows in it. Things that just took too long to try and categorise.
Video shops died without a trace. Even Blockbuster, the original Conquistadors of the likes of Cash Cut, was eventually wiped out by the armies of Amazon and LoveFilm. Blockbuster died with a mere whisper in the national news, silently dragging the very notion of video shops down to the grave with it. If somebody came up to you and asked where the nearest video shop is, what would you say? I’m going to make it my mission to find one during this journey. (Libraries not included.) Hopefully there’s still one out there, desperately clinging on:
‘Come on in, guys. You can rent this film out for one night for just £3.99 – plus the cost in petrol of coming to pick it up and returning it the very next day. And if you fail to bring it back in time, we will charge you again. Hey. Stop. Where are you going? Come back…’
Renting a film always was the pale nephew of a trip to the cinema but it wasn’t without its charms. Sometimes you did mange to beat the obese waster to the latest release, and, ah, the excitement of having the case in your hand as you made your way home. Things change. For the better, I guess. At least when you rent a movie digitally there’s no faffing around, and no empty shelves. Every film is there already. Click. Done. Our countless devices do the leg work for us now, freeing up more time for us to eat at all of those new restaurants that are opening up. Even so, I would have given anything to have seen Cash Cut still there on the precinct, selling Reebok Classics and telling me that Mac & Me is coming out in 1988. That’s a world I want to live in.
More Kismet Quick excerpts in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, here’s a picture of Mac & Me. It really is a disaster. You have to see it: