No News Here with Davey Stone: Why we all miss Blockbuster Video

Davey Stone

 

Ramsgate resident Davey Stone is a former bestselling author for Disney in America and Hodder in the UK.

He recently wrote a book about growing up in Ramsgate called Too Much Information, which nobody bought so he now uses the copies as doorstops in his house or occasionally as toilet paper.

He lives in Thanet coffee shops and has no friends.

(Davey is actually a successful fantasy author best known for his series of books The Illmoor Chronicles. He runs independent publishing house Kingsbrook with wife Chiara)

 

It’s a dark and rainy Friday night in Ramsgate sometime during September 2001 and I’m running the late shift at Blockbuster Video. I’m standing at the counter facing down a monster of a guy with a chin like an anvil who I just KNOW is going to be trouble. He is GLARING at me.

‘Say that again, mate?’

I take a gulp.

‘Er…I’m afraid you’ve still got a DVD outstanding on your account and you owe £3.75.’

‘Yeah? What DVD?’

I stare at the screen and wish it said ANYTHING else. Sadly, the title is very clear.

‘Um…it’s the Erotic Witch Project.’

‘Eh? What’s that?’

‘It’s a sort of porn movie about witches running around a forest naked.’

‘Yeah? Well, your computer’s screwed, innit? I wouldn’t rent something like that.’

I look down at his account and take a deep breath. His rental list is pretty much ALL horror porn with only two exceptions: Driving Miss Daisy and Steel Magnolias. I’m not quite why he suddenly got a taste for tearjerkers in the middle of his year-long sex marathon but then I notice from the notes that his MUM occasionally rents stuff, so assuming she’s responsible for Steel Magnolias and NOT Queen of Lust, I might have some leverage there.

‘Do you think you could have a look at home? Only, I’m not supposed to rent anything to you when there’s already a DVD outstanding on your account.’

I need to be careful here as the guy looks like he could push me through a brick wall using only his index finger

He leans across the counter. ‘Read my lips. I don’t RENT porn.’

‘Okay.’ Smiling weakly, I return my attention to his account and type ‘possible attitude problem’ in the comments box.

He snorts and shrugs. ‘This place is crap anyway. I’d rather die than work here.’

I delete the word ‘possible’.

Then I swallow and ready the voice I use when I’m about to take a risk. ‘Look, I’m sorry, REALLY…it’s just that there’s a list of porn stuff a mile long on this account..but – wait – I see there’s someone else listed on your account, so it might be HER that’s renting it all. You can ask her yourself or we can call if-‘

‘NO! No…it’s okay. I’ll go look at home.’

‘Are you sure? I can-‘

‘It’s FINE!’

‘We’re also missing Steel Magnolias…’

‘I said I’ll go and LOOK! OKAY?!?’

As he stomps off in a hurricane of internalised fury, I glance across the floor of the store and see families laughing and joking together by the New Release Wall, couples kissing in the Thriller section and a bunch of thieving teens joyfully opening the Horror DVDs, only to discover that they’re not actually kept inside the boxes.

It’s a typical Friday night at Blockbuster Video: packed, rowdy and full of the sounds of laughter, argument and that general noisy buzz of the sort you get in restaurants when you’re a glass of wine down and everything starts to get loud.

Fast forward twenty years and I’m sitting at home on Friday night, nursing a small glass of whiskey and flicking endlessly through Netflix to find something I can stomach more than five minutes of. I keep getting annoyed because it starts to play me clips of every film while I’m trying to read the description.

Here’s the thing. Blockbuster Video got us all out of the house. It might have been a bit of a drag to get down into Ramsgate after dark and a complete pain in the arse to return the stuff on Monday mornings…but it brought us together in a social environment, even if that was just arguing over a DVD or debating whether to get sweet or salty popcorn.

Now we sit at home. We no longer wander rows of shelves, staring at the covers of films and then reading the backs to check if there’s enough sex and violence to go with our Maltesers: now we scroll down rabbit holes of flashing images and they ALL end up showing us at least twenty seconds of a film or TV show we don’t even really want to watch.

Wow….what a difference: I guess Blockbuster Video really WAS the place to be. A pity we all wandered away into the digital age. It’s pretty GRIM, here.

Just to set the record straight on a few old legends from the Ramsgate store: we didn’t steal bikes from the gangs of kids who tried to egg the windows, we didn’t smash up DVDs and put them through the till as faulty refunds when we were hungry and fancied ordering in a pizza, we didn’t have all-night lock-ins and we weren’t ALL sleeping together….at least, not all the time.

Admit it, now, you miss us all just a little bit. You miss the rubbish films and the rubbery popcorn, you miss all those late fees and you miss that bright light in the middle of Ramsgate which everybody gravitated to on a Friday night.

You miss Blockbuster Video.

2 Comments

    • I loved VHS….and even Betamax (sort of) but even I caved in the end! I think it was all the rewinding?!!

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