17.06, Sunday 31 Dec 2006

5 things: I was hypothetically tagged by Tim O'Reilly to post five things most people don't know about me.

There are a bunch of things people don't know only because they're not terribly interesting: I have a terrible memory (the first time I remember forgetting, I was 6); I read a bunch; until recently I couldn't make either of the /th/ phonemes which made me shy of public speaking; I'm surprisingly good at arm wrestling (that's not to say I'm good, only that you'd expect me to be terrible and I'm not quite that bad); my current favourite drink is Laphroaig Quarter Cask.

So let's not go into any of those.

I'm half Indian. My mother was born in Nairobi, and came to the UK some decades ago. Her father was brought by his family to Mombassa, also in Kenya, early last century, from a town on the coast of what is now Pakistan. That whole side of my family is Ismaili. While I'm not religious myself, I have great respect for Aga Khan IV, their Imam, who, from what I know of his work and the risks he has taken, is one of the few truly good men alive today.

My first job was as a Saturday boy in the local ironmongers. I don't know how common that term is. An ironmongers is a hardware-and-everything store. There's a photo online: The paraffin pump is operational. After not too long, I could size a screw just by looking at it, and give you a price per dozen for the most common ones without looking at the box. Eric, my boss, a formidable man, had me cleaning, serving customers, lugging huge gas canisters and, mainly, not mumbling and no longer talking at my shoes.

One time a tree had grown up between the shop and the neighbour's garage, and its branches were poking into the loft. I was sent into the narrow gap, to climb the tree and cut it down piece by piece. It was a half day's work - brutal and fantastic fun - and when I'd finished I asked Eric what to do with the wood. Leave it in the neighbour's drive, I was told, as it was his tree and if we kept the wood it'd be theft. Aren't you going to get in trouble, if it was his tree? 'What do you mean me?' said Eric, 'You chopped it down.'

On quiet autumn afternoons, with the wind and rain outside and customers all staying at home, I'd be in the window cleaning up dead flies and doing the display, or restocking the shelves, and Eric would be in his office behind the counter, doing the accounts, opera playing as loud as you like.

I'm not fashionable, but I really enjoy watching fashion. In particular, trends in women's street fashion. It's not the catwalk stuff, just what regular people choose to wear out and to work. I enjoy watching people on the Tube and out of bus windows and making predictions about what's coming up. It's a form of pattern recognition I suppose. I speculate about the trends with friends who are closer to it than I am, and will quite happily spend a few hours reading a fashion magazine or browsing fashion trend-watching websites.

This winter? Lots of colours, all overlapping, not matching by hue but by temperature. Lots of soft surfaces: Heavy felt, wool, crochet. In addition to colours, look for tight, repeating patterns, and glitters, silver and gold. Greys and whites are coming in; less black. Fewer boots, leggings (obviously) and flat shoes. 1950s-1970s retro too. More notes, though those are a little old.

I'm more of a jeans and pullover person myself, but recently I've been wearing jeans with gold trainers and an old Norwegian fishing jumper (wool, off-white with a repeating blue pattern). Not bad. And a light grey pullover with my light grey suit, and brown shoes, both of which would have been terrible offences a couple of years ago but don't look so awful now.

My random physical skill is bendy fingers. I'm generally quiet in groups unless I'm on my own with a group of bored people. Bored people drive me crazy. There's so much not to be bored about. (If you're wondering: INTP. Test here.)

In such situations I have a number of games I play to entertain myself. One is to find the thing that makes the other person incredibly interesting. Nobody is dull. I like to hear people's stories about their work, and observations about the people they meet.

Another game is the connections game. A good friend of mine from university, Andrew, was getting married. His at-the-time fiance comes from a town local to me, yet we couldn't find any mutual friends. That's really unusual, to not have a connection. But then Andrew recognised me in a photo when they were at another couple's house. It turns out the connection is this: Andrew's wife's best friend's husband is the younger brother of Tom who I wrote the book with.

The final game is random physical skills, which I remember first playing in October 1996. 'Random' in this case means 'without purpose,' and 'skills' is a very loose term. People will often deny, with much conviction, that there is nothing special they can do with their body, but they're always wrong. I can bend my left little finger into my palm, and hold it through a closed fist. Many people are double jointed. Some can juggle, or breathe fire, or do cartwheels. Some have a clover tongue. A few have third nipples (one guy I knew had five. He showed me in Chemistry). Often people don't realise what's they've got but last time we played this, when I was in the pub with lots of friends who didn't yet know each other, one woman had webbed toes, another couldn't frown, and there was a man there with gills.

My first word was 'cup.' And I'm told that I called motorcycles 'bugger-buggers.' Enough, enough!

Part of this game is that I tag five other people to play. Here they are: Duncan Gough (answers), Matt Jones (answers), Phil Gyford (answers), Tom Armitage (answers), Tom Carden (answers).