Five things you don't know about me

Matt Webb tagged me to find out five things most people don’t know about me. Thinking about this I’ve realised how much of my life has been mentioned online, and how few things there are that people don’t know. Or, at least, couldn’t find out. But I think the following should be new to most people who read this.

I swear a lot

Should you ask them, most people who have spent any time with me will say that I never swear. And I don’t, when I’m with people. When I’m on my own it’s a different matter. If I’m alone and I drop something, or forget something, or get frustrated with the computer the air turns blue and I’m cursing like… what swears a lot? A navvy? A trooper? Al Swearingen certainly.

It’s not a conscious decision to switch this language off when in company. I never think “ooh, I’m really vexed, but I musn’t say fuck”. It simply doesn’t happen and I very, very rarely feel the need for it. Years of some kind of trying to be a good boy have conditioned me to be polite, which has its advantages. On the few occasions that I do swear it has much more effect.

For example, at sixth form, when trying to direct a scene in a (pretty bad) pantomime, one friend in the audience who was present only in order to avoid real classes kept making loudly sarcastic and unhelpful comments. One “Shut up or fuck off!” from me later and she was silent. And in tears. Which isn’t necessarily a nice thing but it was useful and, at the time, very satisfying.

The smell of gin makes me think of a factory

During holidays from university I occasionally, grudgingly, took on temp work to earn some money. Although I could type and file I was sent to the temping agency’s office for manual workers, presumably because I was male. Only girls were allowed the easy office jobs.

I spent a few weeks working in a local factory that had two roles. One half of it was devoted to handling industrial chemicals (or maybe just alcohol) and transferring them from one kind of container to another for sale (I think). The other half, where I worked, dealt with bottling alcoholic drinks. Most of the time I was at one end of a production line transferring empty bottles from palettes to a rickety conveyor belt that was prone to seizing up for hours at a time. Sometimes the bottles were clear plastic, which had a tendency to wobble over as they jiggled their way to the next room, sometimes they were green glass, which was harder on the fingers.

I guess most factories stink of whatever they produce and this one had its own chemical odour. It wasn’t until several years later, when I first tasted gin, that I realised this was the smell of the factory. Now, if I ever get a whiff of gin, I immediately think of clackety metal conveyor belts and wobbling empty bottles.

I can say the alphabet backwards

No, not like the playground joke where you say “the alphabet backwards”. When I was a child, lying in bed awake, I’d do different things to pass the time, in the hope one of them would magically send me to sleep. I might watch the luminous minute hand on my Westclox alarm clock in an attempt to catch it moving. Or I might stare for as long as I could without blinking at the car headlights on the small TCR poster on my wall.

Something else I tried was learning the alphabet in reverse. I don’t know why it occurred to me. Maybe it was wanting to have a better answer to that same playground joke. But over a few nights I worked my way backwards, bit by bit, over and over, until I could recite “z y x w v u t s r…”. It’s not a huge achievement, and it was certainly easier than learning it forwards when I was five and kept getting ‘u’ and ‘v’ mixed up, but it’s not something many people can do.

Until two weeks ago I had never shaved with a razor

When I first began shaving in my late teens I borrowed my dad’s electric shaver. He’d used one for as long as I can remember and when it came to buying my own shaving device it seemed the obvious choice to carry on with what I knew. I’ve used one ever since, owning three or four different electric shavers over a couple of decades.

In all that time shaving with a razor never appealed. The electric shaver worked fine, and I didn’t want to have to keep buying new, expensive blades and foams and keep up with the latest razors that would make me a real man. Besides which, I just had no idea how to go about the whole elaborate procedure.

Just over a year ago there was an entry on Cool Tools about classic safety razors. This sounded intriguing, like most stuff on Cool Tools (the number of things I’ve bought after reading that site is a post in itself). The idea sat at the back of my mind for months until I realised I’d never buy one for myself so it might make a good Christmas present. So this Christmas my parents bought me a Merkur safety razor, a badger hair brush and some Taylors of Old Bond Street shaving soap. I read the guides and shaved with a blade for the first time.

It’s been interesting. It’s like exploring your own face for the first time, working out which way the hairs grow, which way to draw the blade for the most effective cutting. It was tricky at first, with more blood than seemed strictly necessary. But already it’s much easier, and quite a calming, focused way to start each day. Whether this slow process will be as appealing when term starts and I’m rushing to get to college is another matter, but so far it’s a pleasant change after rubbing an electric whizzy thing over my face for years.

I have 900 cinema tickets

It’s probably not exactly 900 but it must be something like that. I hardly ever went to see movies when I was younger, and it wasn’t until I moved to Bristol for university that I realised what I was missing. The city was lucky enough to have three good arts cinemas and I soon started going to see movies once or twice a week. Sometimes twice a night, when the Arts Cinema (now the Cube Microplex, tucked away down a long corridor behind a takeaway, had a good double-bill on, and I could arrive early to get one of the best seats with extra leg room at the back of the small auditorium.

Back then I’d usually go to the cinema on my own, as my friends all thought subtitled films were a bit odd, so I soon gave up asking them along. But that was fine with me; seeing a movie on my own is still one of life’s little joys as there are no friends to share the film with. It’s just for me, as if the story is a personal memory to be kept secret.

Because I was an art student at the time I kept sketch books and these doubled as scrap books, so every cinema ticket was stuck in them. I’ve kept this going ever since, over seventeen years, and do my best to see at least one film a week, which must mean I have around 900 tickets. Admittedly, these days, despite new year resolutions to the contrary, I rarely draw and my sketch books are increasingly full of nothing but cinema tickets.

Of my siblings in this game, also tagged by Matt, Tom Carden, Duncan Gough and Matt Jones have each written about five things, and Tom Armitage hasn’t as yet.

I’m supposed to tag five more people, so here we go: Ted Mills, Paul Mison, Yoz Grahame, Dan Hill and, of course, Mary Loosemore.

(UPDATE: I’ve just found Matt Jones’s five things entry again — I forgot he had another weblog — and added a link to it. He also tagged Dan Hill, so Dan now has no excuse.)


  • Glad to hear you went with the razor. And you do learn a little more about yourself, it's true. I also like the meditative state of it. You realize this state is a big part of women's beauty routines, even if they don't admit/know it. According to friends of mine, German blades are the best.

    Thanks for the tag. I'll try to get this done before I leave on Monday, but if not, please remind me when I get back.

  • You should have said, Phil: I've got a shelf of 50-year-old Gillettes that I bought in dilapidated state and cleaned up to look shiny and new. Anyway.

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Saturday 6 January 2007, 4:55pm

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6 Jan 2007 at Twitter

  • 7:39pm: Quiet day. Lie in, run in the rain, breakfast, paper, David visited, more paper. Now venturing to theatre.
  • 12:10am: Home and happy after seeing an unusually large quantity of friends in one evening. Lovely. Happy birthday James!