I hated university for a lot of reasons, and I think a lot of this was to do with the fact that I went to university in my hometown. Almost nobody in England seems to do this. People who were born in Oxford go to uni in Cambridge, and vice versa. I, on the other hand, lived my whole life in Cork, and attended Cork University. There was no fish-out-of-water scenario where I trudged along a dormitory corridor carrying a cardboard box, a lava lamp and a 4 Non Blondes CD. I turned up to the university I had seen countless times before. I mooched around. I hung out with the people I had known for years. My course had 400 other people in it, and I was interested in knowing exactly none of them.
My real uni experience happened at HMV, where I had gotten a job days after I had finished secondary school. I lived in the kind of city where you could spend your whole adolescence trying to get a job in HMV. It was one of the very few categorically “cool” teenager jobs you could get, this owing to the fact that we had one independent cinema, one late-night coffee shop and one hipster book shop. Almost all of these businesses would fold in the three years I would work in HMV, while we remained. Customers would come in to ruminate on the future of the CD industry, the DVD industry, the posters industry, the novelty badges industry. Popular belief seemed to dictate that the future of owning physical “stuff” at all was doomed. We were always confident that HMV’s good natured stuff-flogging would prevail over all else. And besides, who would close us down? We were the only CD megastore within a two hour drive.
We ate together, drank together, moved in together. We fetishized High Fidelity. We sloped around the shop floor, hungover and making paltry attempts to file CDs. This usually meant standing perfectly still while holding four Toto Greatest Hits albums. When the local paper published my first story, it was tacked up in the lunchroom for three months.
University ended, and I moved to London. The first six months passed slowly. Homesick and alone, I made a habit of going into the HMV on Oxford Street, watching the staff. I would find a boy with shaggy blond hair and board shorts. I would feel instantly better and start texting my friend Billy: “I just saw London you.”
Distressing news began to filter back. The uniform policy had changed. Piercings, tattoos, and quote-unquote alternative hairstyles had to be removed or covered. Removed or covered. I thought of Lisa’s spiralling rose that sprang up her arm, and her 11 years in the business. Rose – her mother’s name.
People were apparently socialising less and less outside of work. Many had moved on. The emphasis on CD and DVD had long since passed on the shop floor, and HMV was no longer the hub of music and film fans I knew. Listing the pros and cons of Dr. Dre Beatz was now the MO of all sales assistants. The shop was on a scheduled, formulaic playlist. The same people who used to roll their eyes at Florence and the Machine were now begging to get her back on.
I mourn HMV like I do a childhood pet: something that was absolutely formative to my personality, yet knowing its likely passing will never get the sympathy from others that it deserves. Still: I can’t help but think I’ll feel relieved if it’s put to sleep.
Caroline is a writer, editor and professional Irish person. She runs a website called Work in Prowess and has done some truly awful things for money.