Seven Things About Me

People have been writing a list recently on Facebook, of “Seven things you didn’t know about me” which I believe is a terrible sequel idea to “10 Things I Hate About You” but quite an interesting way of sharing otherwise personal information with your friends list. Many of them are fairly mundane and for every “I once snogged a pre-fame John Hurt in the back of a taxi” or “I’m actually Batman” there are countless “When I was 7 I wet my pants on a school trip”. Yet the small personal, amusing ones are just as interesting to read as the ones that reveal you to be the hero Gotham needs. In fact maybe more so, because it shows we all have things in our lives that despite being a part of who we are, are not revealed. They’ve been an interesting dive into peoples lives and I’ve learnt something new about people I’ve know for years every time.

I started thinking what would go on my list, and as soon as I did I realised they probably all needed expanding on in a bit more detail, because a lot of the time I’m an idiot.

So, here is my list of 7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me, Unless We Were Really Drunk Once And I Needed To Ensure The Conversation Remained About Me.

ONE: I was once involved in a Murder (Investigation)

I was 22, living with two other students in a house in Leicester, but when those two left the Housing Association opened it up to any applicant. One of those applicants was a chap called Sammy. Things started off pretty quiet, he’d have his friends over and I’d hide away in my room because they scared me, you know, things like that. If it was just having his friends over it’d be fine, or maybe a few late nights, those things are a bit annoying. But when you find him hiding meat cleavers around the house you do start to double check your bedroom lock at night. Whenever I did sit and converse with him, the conversation quickly turned to his latest knife fight, which in order to keep sane I just assumed was in relation to his rehearsing of West Side Story. One morning I came downstairs to find one of his friends, having let himself in at some point in the night, sleeping on the floor of the front room, dressed only in a papery blue jumpsuit. You know those jumpsuits the police give you when they take your clothes away? I want to say they were kind of like that only they weren’t. They were EXACTLY that. As I tried to step over him to get to the front door he awoke and with little prompting from me recounted, what seemed to him the funniest tale he’d told, that he was dressed like that because the police had arrested him for rape and taken his clothes. He told me this in exactly the same manner of jolliness as you might tell me the tale of that time you accidentally phoned the salon and accidentally requested a “cut and a blowjob” instead of “cut and blowdry”. So that was Sammys friend. Later that night I came home to find said friend (now properly attired) along with Sammy and others sat in the living room. The previous day I had taken what was my television upstairs to my room as Sammy refused to pay toward the license.

He looked at me and said, in a tone that could only be described as “I know you know about the meat cleavers”, that I should bring the television down. Now. It was at this point I decided I should probably move out. That night. Right then. I was genuinely fearful for my safety.

A few days later I got a phone call from the police. They wanted to talk to me. About Sammy. You may be thinking that Sammy had, with one of his hidden cleavers, murdered someone. The title of this entry may give that impression. Turns out Sammy had lost his most recent knife fight and was currently on ice at the local morgue. Sammy had been stabbed to death fighting. Pretty horrible truth be told. I didn’t like the guy, and he was clearly violent and dangerous, but that type of news still knocks the air out of you a bit.

One of the things I had done at an earlier date was photograph the cleavers and the letters that had been hidden with them. The police questioned me briefly, only over the phone sadly which meant I had no opportunity to look that one cop with the Tom Selleck mustache right in the eye and demand an attorney and a coffee. The only time I went into the police station was to get my camera back after they took the pictures off it and … oh yeah… for them to bring in a carrier bag of scripts. Scripts I had printed off. You see, I had spent my late teens as a huge Monty Python fan, and getting into the arts I started writing Python inspired sketches. Badly. I had forgotten I had printed them off and had left them, with my name on, in the house, which obviously the police searched. The whole Sammy situation and murder thing was bad enough, but I will never forget the look of the police officer as he asked me “Do you want them? There’s a lot. One about Napoleon catching a train and oh yeah, a few about police officers who…” I cut him off, politely asking him to dispose of them and exited before he found something to charge me with.

TWO: I’ve been Homeless

Picture a homeless person right now. Go on. What are you seeing? Don’t be ashamed if you’ve gone for the obvious. It s common to envision homeless people as drunkards sleeping on park benches. That those types represent such a small number is difficult for movies to understand. Unless you are on a park bench, shouting at invisible goblins trying to steal your treasures whilst drinking white cider you aren’t homeless. Most homeless people I have met don’t fall into that category. It is an offensive stereotype that makes it easier for us to ignore the very real problems that the homeless face. When its an abusive alcoholic who lives in a box we can distance ourselves. When it’s a middle aged man who simply got divorced and lost his home it is hard to accept- it becomes a reality that could potentially affect any of us. Another myth about the homeless is that they live on the streets. A large number of homeless people don’t, and I was fortunate enough to fall into that camp.

After I left the house due to the whole “I will slice you up if you don’t let me watch Neighbours” vibe I got from Sammy, I went into new housing association housing. But that didn’t last long, it was again shared and very unpleasant so for my own safety I had to leave… only, the housing association had nowhere for me to go. I had no savings, not enough money to even feed myself most weeks and no chance of getting a loan. I had been struggling to find work for a while after losing my previous job for regularly calling in sick – which in retrospect I can now attribute to depression and its related issues. They finally fired me when I had to take a day off to move house, after… god damn it, the Sammy situation again. So I was now in a situation where I was homeless, unemployable and skint.

I spent the better part of a year going from sofa to sofa, my things in storage at my parents house where I spent a few months sofa sleeping. If it doesn’t sound so bad, then imagine not having any place you can go that is truly yours, that is truly private. Not being able to go to sleep until the rest of the house has, and having to get up to their schedules. Leaving the house for hours at a time when they had things to do or guests. I don’t blame them, in fact I am eternally grateful to them, but it is hardly a desirable life. And always there was the risk that I might find myself at short notice needing to find another sofa. The prospect of a quiet underpass in the town being just one possible day away at all times. No matter how liberal and open supporters may be, you’re still never really free nor do you have an actual home. And it puts strain on your relationships too.

One friend who is one of my closest, put me up for a while but being unemployed, homeless and depressed can lead to tension, and when those things combine drinking is pretty common. Yep, I was a white cider, drink myself unconscious type of homeless person. So the stereotype has some merit I guess. Now I’m not excusing my drinking, that was a symptom of a larger problem that was my life at the time. But it didn’t create a great situation in the house, and admittedly that was entirely my fault (see drinking, depressed, homeless, jobless etc for some context). We ended up falling out for a while.

This lasted about a year before I moved to Scotland and things started to get better.  Going from sofa to sofa, never knowing where you might find yourself is terrifying. I’ve heard people in my situation referred to as the Invisible Homeless, because we don’t fit the bill but are homeless and there is always the risk and fear that you could find yourself in a park, trying to sleep whilst teenagers drink on the swings.

THREE: A friend and I once drunkenly tried to walk to Birmingham

Around ten years ago, when I was still living in Leicester, me and my best friend decided we wanted to make a film. It was going to be epic. We had that bright spark of enthusiasm we all have at 21, the spark that suddenly flickers out at around 27 when you realise being a creative is not synonymous with “Being able to feed yourself”. The topic of the film isn’t relevant, it was going to be an “is this real/ isn’t it?” Mystery and we put together a 40 page proposal about the film. One evening we decide to do a “recce” which is film maker speak for “lets go somewhere out of the way, look for locations and have an adventure”. Basically, artists are kids at heart. One of the scenes in the film was going to be set in a woodland area before moving to an open countryside. We decided to head to the outskirts of Leicester to a place called Croft and have a look around. We had some great views, took some photos and filmed around, looking for where we might shoot this movie.

After a while we lay down on the hills, looking up at the sun and probably reciting Keats when we had an idea. We had planned to bring the film to Edinburgh to show during the Fringe – back when the Film Festival and Fringe were basically at the same time. As the film was only going to be a short, we needed some way to justify showing it at the festival and hit upon the inspired idea of walking from Leicester to Edinburgh and filming the journey. Along the way we’d have challenges to complete and thought we’d had the best idea ever that would absolutely make us stand out from the 8.2 billion acts on during the Fringe.

Satisfied with this idea, having worked out it was 366 miles, we decided a celebratory drink was called for. This was the first mistake of the evening.

As we sat in a quaint little pub, drinking some beers we started talking about what type of challenges we might undertake on the way and came up with several that we knew were daft but were just starting blocks. You’ll get a better idea of what these excellent ideas were in the next section.

As the night progressed, we retired to the snug of the bar. Alone we picked up some pool cues and shot a few frames. Threw a few darts at the board, drank copious amounts of whisky whilst smoking cigars and playing Aqua’s Barbie Girl repeatedly on the Juke Box. Yes, it was a spiffing evening. Until one of us made a suggestion.

You see, neither of us had walked such a large distance before. Hundreds of miles! We had no idea if we could do it. We decided there and then that the best course of action would be to plan a training regime, walk smaller distances raising them incrementally over the course of several weeks or months to prepare. Or at least we would have decided that if we had not been filled with fine scotch, cigar smoke and the ear worm telling Barbie to go party. And party we would! We decided that what we needed was to push ourselves; we needed to take a risk. We needed to walk to Birmingham. That. Very. Minute.

Up we got, downed what was left in our glasses, stubbed out our cigars and left as locals stared angrily at us, thankful they could finally turn off the jukebox. Now Leicester is around 50 miles from Birmingham, a hell of a distance to walk sober, with the right gear. But at night and drunk it was a real challenge.

Remember, this was a time before Smart Phones, the best our mobiles could do was write a double length text and provide a decent backlight for Snake. No internet and no maps. We knew Birmingham was South West, and using the stars for directions we set off. It would probably have gone better if we actually knew how to navigate by the stars, alas we didn’t and could barely make out the North Star. Fortunately we found a phone box and knew what to do. We went in, picked up the phone and dialed.

“Hello, Directory Inquiries” came the voice.

We explained we were sort of near Croft and were walking to Birmingham and could she kindly give us directions. You may be surprised to learn she couldn’t. Deflated, but not defeated, we set out again. Then a car came driving toward us! Saved! We flagged him down, he opened his window and we drunkenly slurred.

“Can you help us? We’re in the army on manoeuvres and need to get to Birmingham on foot. Do you know the way?” He did, kind of and we set off on foot again. Why did we say we were in the army? Because otherwise it might sound silly, this whole walking to Birmingham thing. We traveled through deserted farmland, past what was clearly a deserted abattoir that has been empty so long we briefly considered improvising a horror movie, leapt over ditches and through woodlands before emerging in a very suburban area. We needed to rest and come up with a new plan. Somehow we had to find South West. It was at that point I remembered something I had once seen on the TV show How 2. A way in which you could build a compass. All it needed was a small tub, pour in some water, add a leaf and place a needle upon it that has been magnetised by rubbing and it would find North.

Alas. We did not have the necessary tools, but if doing drama had taught us one thing it was improvisation. Ultimately, our compass comprised: a ripped in half empty can of Coke, filed with some Pepsi, a leaf and a key that looked the same colour as a needle. I doubt it pointed North, but we decided it did and set off again. We now came to a deserted ring road, woodland all around we set off down a darkened road, coming to an old deserted petrol station that hadn’t been used in years. No one and nothing else around. We heard rustling in the bushes, which we naturally assumed were villainous cannibals, playing banjos and coming for us because we were young, drunk and terrified of what appeared to be a shooting location from the movie Deliverance.

By the time we reached civilisation we were so exhausted and dehydrated- our last fluids used to make the compass- that we sat down on the curb so thirsty we were spitting white foam. We found a street address, called a taxi and got back home. We didn’t make it to Birmingham, in fact we didn’t even get out of Leicestershire. And it turns out, we actually had a second bottle of Pepsi hidden in the bag.

FOUR: I once had to bullshit for ten minutes on live BBC radio on a subject I knew nothing about.

So, about that 40 page proposal and challenges to undertake on the way to Edinburgh? Remember how I came up with that bit whilst in a pub, drinking whisky? You’ve just read it? Well the ideas were terrible. We knew they were terrible, we weren’t genuinely going to do them, they were starting blocks. The ones I remember are that we would cross Hadrians Wall dressed as Romans and that we would not double up the same drinks along the way- as in, if we had a Carling in one pub we couldn’t have another Carling after we left that pub for the rest of the journey. Yeah, they were dumb, but these were ideas coming from people who later that evening would attempt to walk to another county.

We briefly mentioned our plan to walk to the Fringe, and do some challenges along the way in this proposal. The 40 page proposal, in which one single page, and on the page one single paragraph mentioned the idea of a walk and the potential for challenges. That was it. Nothing else, nothing more. It was barely a footnote. And it was this footnote that BBC Leicester honed in on when they invited me and my friend onto a live and popular breakfast radio show.

We had sent the proposal out in an attempt to get people interested in funding the film project, that was it. There were pages upon pages about the film, about the themes, the characters, the inspiration, a breakdown of costs. Everything that you’d want to know about our film. And a single small paragraph about our proposed walk. And it was that paragraph that interested the BBC.

As we sat down, prepared to talk about the film, about the short and everything behind it, our reasons, how much we needed to raise etc we were excited. This could make or break it. This could set the ball rolling. This could… as it turned out embarrass us more than if we’d wet ourselves on a crowded bus. As we sat there all enthusiastic, the “Live” light came on and the host began.

“So, we’re here with two lads from the city who are going to be walking to Edinburgh, tell us about it lads”…

We froze. We froze in ways only rabbits in headlights do. We froze in ways that would make university improv groups weep with jealousy.

“Erm…” I began, voice croaky and dry… “We’re hear to talk about a film project”

“Sure, sure, but the walk. How far a day are you planning to walk?”

We had no idea, we hadn’t thought that far ahead. This was just an idea we mentioned in passing, an idea that had its roots in a pub in Croft whilst terrible yet catchy europop blasted in the background. This was an idea hatched form the minds of two men that decided to try and make a compass out of a drinks can and a fucking key.

The I said it… “Uhm… seven miles.”

Seven miles. Seven fucking miles. I do that as a casual stroll. There I was, on live radio talking about a journey and I was saying we were going to walk such a small distance it would take us several days just to get out of the damn city. Then she asked it, the question we knew was coming, like a train rocketing towards us she asked it:

”So tell us about the challenges”

You, dear reader, know the only two challenges we had thought of by that stage. And you know I had no choice but to put them forward. I felt the atmosphere in that room as I uttered the line “Cross Hadrians Wall dressed as a Roman”. I’m not sure if she pitied us or thought we were trolling or what but the interview ended not long after. It is for this reason, even today, I try to avoid live radio and television appearances.

Seven. Fucking. Miles.

FIVE: I once got reprimanded by a lecturer for streaking on Scarborough beach

It was visiting Scarborough with my class from college and we all got rather inebriated one night. At this point someone… possibly me… actually definitely me… brought up streaking. We were young drunk and dramary. Ultimately only two of us decided to do it and with the entire class watching we stripped off and darted along the darkened beach. By this time one of the supervisors of the group noticed and we heard the angry shout of a group leader out of their depth “Oi, Get back here!”. We returned to a loud and boisterous round of applause.

The next day however, the head lecturer had clearly been informed (thanks supervisor dude! Why did you have to do your job?). She marched up to me in the bar, finger extended, and in a tone clearly reserved for moments of genuine fury she said one word at a time “What. Happened. Last. Night. Will. Not. Happen. Again”.

The annoying thing though? I was the only one to get in trouble!

SIX: I didn’t know until about a year ago men didn’t have a uterus.

Seriously. I thought they were part of the bladder. I was genuinely taken aback when my female flatmate explained it to me. I had spent 30 years convinced men had a uterus.

SEVEN: I almost killed myself trying to open a washing machine

A few years back, the washing machine door stuck and wouldn’t open. Now, I didn’t realise there was an electrical locking mechanism. But there was. I decided to open the door by inserting something flat and long into the side and lifting up the, well you know, the plasticky thing that latches on. Oooh. The latch. That’s it. So I grabbed a knife, inserted it in, juggled it about and.

BANG.

Smoke billowed and the electrics went out. I was knocked a little way across the room. Once the lights were on, I looked at the knife. The fucking washing machine had taken a chunk out of the knife! Had it not been for the plastic handle I could very well have perished.

———————————

So that’s it. I now feel part of the Facebook meme family. And after looking back, I reckon this article will be a better encourager of never drinking again than even the worst hang over.

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One Response to Seven Things About Me

  1. That was far, far more interesting than just reading a list – thanks Ash. Seven miles from Leicester to Edinburgh! 🙂

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