Sometime in the mid 1980s, my cousins moved from the suburb of Tallaght to nearby Firhouse and I travelled to Dublin to stay with them for the school holidays. I remember that we were very obsessively into Star Wars around then. I was always on the side of the Empire. After all, they had Darth, Deathstars and cool uniforms. They also represented order, which appealed to me.
We’d been making our own Star Wars stuff for fun, little badges made from paper and cardboard with hand drawn ideas of Tie Fighters, posters of Darth Vader, that sort of thing. Both Jamie and Zac were pretty good draughtsmen, and I could just about get by when it came to spacecraft and the like- circles and triangles joined to other circles and triangles by means of a few straight lines. Unfortunately, my attempts at anything less geometric weren’t so successful. My Luke Skywalker was unrecognisable, a blobby sausage with a big black blur sticking out of him which was meant to represent his gloved mechanical hand. He looked more like a cloud with an erection than the saviour of the galaxy.
Anyway, somewhere along the line, one of us- probably Jamie, a born entrepreneur if ever there was one- hit upon the idea that we could try to sell these things to local children and make a bit of money. So we bundled up our ‘work’ and hit the streets of Firhouse on our bikes, searching for customers- ideally kids a bit younger than us who didn’t mind handing over their pocket money in exchange for an image which could, at a stretch, have been Yoda, but could just as easily have been a greenish puddle of toxic waste. Surprisingly, there were more than a few of these types about. I didn’t think about it then, but perhaps suddenly being set upon by three older boys shouting ‘Hey! You into Star Wars? C’Mere!’ before being subjected to a sales patter so enthusiastic that it bordered on aggressive had more to do with our initial success than any great desire these kids had to hang our crap on their walls. After all, they couldn’t all have been imbeciles.
Imbeciles or not, we didn’t care- we were in business and it was good. We’d started out charging only pennies, but after the first few sales we got greedy and jacked up the prices. Our overheads were nonexistent. Business premises and raw materials were all provided by Jamie & Zacs’ parents, so everything was pure profit. After our initial success, we went into overdrive at the kitchen table- cutting, colouring, scribbling and squabbling. What little quality control we’d previously exercised went out the window in the rush to get as much made and sold as quickly as possible. If we ran out of, say, black pencils, then a lime green Darth Vader would have to do. Forget investment banking, this was capitalism at its rawest.
In my imagination, we were already on the road to a business empire, one that would enable me to leave school and
kill do whatever I wanted. I was a great escapist. When I (by which I mean my father) built a raft from bits of rotten wood and oil drums, in my head I was gathering valuable nautical experience that would help me reintroduce the concept of piracy to the world. Jamie was ambitious too, but whereas I set ridiculous goals and promptly forgot them as soon as something else came along, he operated on a much more practical plain and tended to follow through. So, I can only assume that he had more realistic expectations for our enterprise than I did. I’m not sure where Zac stood in all of this, if anywhere. As he was the youngest, we probably wouldn’t have heard even if he’d yelled his thoughts through a megaphone.
With another batch of crap in the bag, we hit the streets again the following day, but even though it was a Sunday and we’d picked an opportune time- after mass and before dinner- when there were likely to be plenty of children knocking about, we didn’t do half as well as before. Maybe we’d exhausted the presumably finite amount of stupid children in the area. Or maybe even the stupid ones knew that a lime green Vader was a non- starter. But that’s business, I suppose. What’s gold one day is worthless the next. Apart from gold, obviously. We almost made one sale to a snotty little boy (who, if I’m honest, didn’t seem to be over the moon about the deal) until an angry looking older brother appeared and regulated the market.
Tiring of the swings and roundabouts of commerce, we headed home for dinner. Ok, so we weren’t going to be able to retire before we left school, but at least we’d made a little extra cash by preying on the weaker, dimmer and more vulnerable in society. Good preparation for the future, surely.
What we hadn’t counted on was the stream of irate parents that had started calling to the house that afternoon, angrily waving ‘Yoda/Puddle’ and other such pieces of art in my Aunt’s face and demanding their money back while disparaging, in some pretty colourful language, her ability to raise decent children. We tried to argue that we hadn’t forced anyone into anything, but apparently ‘buyer beware’ was a concept that didn’t apply to their children. After that, I lost all interest in commerce.
And as for reintroducing the concept of piracy to the world, it turns out that some Somalis beat me to that one. I suppose, in the end, they just wanted it more.