Whether it’s somewhere we have travelled that has helped shape our personality, or our little quirks and obsessions that make us unique, we all have a story to tell.
Most of us have quirks. We’ll want to switch the volume up on the TV to an even number, rather than an odd. Or we’ll want to place the toilet roll so that it faces towards us, rather than away from us.
We’ll consider it perfectly normal to leave a tea bag on the side of the sink, even though that drives some people wild.
Or we’ll be driven to distraction if we find evidence of coffee in the sugar bowl: “Why didn’t you just wash the spoon after your stirred? Aaarrgggghhhhhh.” There are other obsessions.
Some of us will insist on sleeping on the left hand side of the bed, never the right; we’ll be unable to eat a roast dinner unless it’s served with a cheeky blob of mayo or a squirt of tomato ketchup or we’ll consider it our civic duty to correct another person’s poor grammar or poor spelling, imagining that we’re being helpful when in fact we’re being the most irritating person since the person who stands on the left hand side of the escalator when he’s descending into the London Underground at Leicester Square, blocking hundreds of people behind him.
Aaah. Obsessions. Dontcha just love them?
Of course, it’s not just a pathological hatred of cyclists, a distaste for social smokers who ask to nick a fag and tell you they’re gonna buy some later, when we both know they’re not, or people adding you to ‘humorous’ Facebook groups that we obsess over.
A famous record company producer used to take his personal thermometer with him everywhere and would only have a cup of tea if it was at a precise temperature.
Then there are the colleagues at work who obsess about listening to music while they work, so that the guy sitting next to them has to wave awkwardly to catch their attention, as though he was back in Year 3.
There are the people who start a conversation in the pub with ‘I’m not a work bore,’ then proceed to tell you the minutiae of health and safety policies, whether the forecast is good or not for the company pension fund. Still, that’s not as bad as the colleagues who talk. All. The. Time.
We’re not talking addiction or the nefarious practices of sociopaths – there’s no eating mattresses, being sexually attracted to cars or knitting pink babydoll rompers for your unborn son – we’re talking about harmless obsessions, like licking the lid of yoghurt pots, only opening crisp packets when they’re upside down, refusing to allow friends and relatives to tell you what happened on last night’s Coronation Street or never treading on the cracks in pavements.
Because we all do that, don’t we?
Andy Richardson: Nothing wrong in wanting perfection
It’s an idiom, rather than an obsession. A way of life, a doctrine, a philosophy and a belief. It’s this (drum roll, purleease): perfection.
I hate, hate, hate – like Nigel Farage at a rally for the Green Party – inadequacy, ineptitude, making do. Please don’t make me eat limp chips, sleep on a lumpy bed or drink rubbish squash. Honestly, I’d rather be hungry, lonely, tired, stressed or out of the loop than have to endure the curse of mediocrity. T’was ever thus.
During Marriage One, my then-wife would be amused every time we took a flight and the attendant asked whether I’d like chicken or fish. “Neither,” she’d laugh, knowing full well my disdain for the awful food-not-food that passes for gastronomy when you’re a mile high.
After a while, she became quite proud of the fact that I’d refuse to eat stale bread, mild cheese, cotton wool fish or sugary desserts. “My husband,” she’d tell her friends, in confidence. “He NEVER eats airline food.”
I tend to think they’d have been underwhelmed by the revelation, that they’d have lent in towards her whispered speech, expecting her to say ‘robs banks’, ‘sacrifices goats’ or ‘has an incredibly long extension for his chainsaw’. But, no, just gets a bit sniffy when someone serves him rubbish food in a travelly thing.
It’s the same with clothes. Give me rags or the best that money can buy. There’s a wardrobe full of elegant fashion waiting at home. It’s been there for a decade. As middle age brought about the inevitable putting-on-of-weight, I refused to buy cheap clothes in the intervening 10 years when all I needed to do was slim, lose three stone and get back into my exceptional threads. I continue to delude myself that I will.
Waste. That’s another obsession. Can’t do waste. Food, music, newspapers, books, T-shirts, magazines – the house is filled with it. On occasion, when the worm turns, I clear the shelves – or, more accurately, she who must be obeyed does. She finds food that’s now old enough to enter secondary school, it’s been there so long. But I can’t bring myself to waste things and occasionally, I belatedly find a use for a spare rivet or unusually-shaped screw, 10 years later.
But perfection is the abiding obsession. The perfect sentence, the harmonious melody, the happiness smile, the best, best, best that it can possibly be. I laid a floor in my old house, using solid oak parquet blocks. It took forever. And a day. Each block was meticulously filed, shaved to within a nanometre so that it just about eased itself into position beside the next one. And then, once I’d wrapped it up, I sold the house and bought a load more blocks to start all over again.
You see the thing with obsession is this. The journey is better than the destination. The process is better than the outcome. I’m addicted to getting it right and the work it takes to achieve that is more rewarding than the result.
Heather Large: A stint in the States’ national parks that stole my heart
I was walking to a university lecture when I decided to take a quick detour from my usual route to go via the refectory to buy a drink.
If I had continued without making this unplanned stop, I would never have seen the poster by the canteen entrance that caught my eye immediately.
“Study in the US” was the message that had got me excited. It was advertising an event taking place that afternoon offering the chance to learn about the university’s study abroad programmes.
Now don’t get me wrong, I was loving my time at University of Central Lancashire in Preston so I wasn’t looking to escape.
But the thought of travelling to America and living there for a while had captured my imagination.
And there was one place that I knew would be my absolute dream location – San Francisco.
I can’t remember what started my fascination with The City by the Bay but I had been longing to see the Golden Gate Bridge for myself for some time.
I don’t think I paid too much attention during my lecture as I was too busy daydreaming about attending an American university – would it be like the films?
A few hours later I was sat listening to all of the study abroad options and I was over the moon to hear that UCLAN was partnered with California State University in Fresno. Now I had never heard of Fresno but I didn’t care, it was in California and that was all that mattered.
We were sent away to think about whether we wanted to apply for the programme and if we did we list top three locations in order of preference.
There was no way California wasn’t going to be top of my list but I was quite content with Texas and New York state as my back-up options.
A nervous few weeks followed before I received letter while on Easter break telling me I had secured at a place at California State University – cue plenty of celebration
My home for five months was the Bulldog Village Apartments, a short walk away from the campus. Fresno State’s mascot is the bulldog so a lot of the surrounding businesses have ‘bulldog’ in their name.
I was sharing an apartment with three other British students, including a fellow UCLAN undergraduate, and there was even a swimming pool.
The fraternities and sororities you see in films do exist – my flatmates and I made up our own – Brit Sigma Nu.
And the whole city comes to a standstill as everybody turns out to watch the Fresno Bulldogs football team play.
I was studying journalism at UCLAN so I attended similar classes in Fresno which included a history of media module. As we were suppose to pick courses similar to what we would have been studying in Preston during our second year, I selected a newspaper writing module.
When I arrived, I was delighted to discover that I had inadvertently signed up as a staff reporter for the Fresno State newspaper The Collegian.
I think the rest of the team was equally surprised to have a Brit on the team. Due to a lack of volunteers and me being keen to get involved, I ended up being responsible for covering the student council and its weekly meetings. Although after sitting through a couple and witnessing the constant arguments and indecision, I understood why I was the only who put up my hand. But I was just enjoying the chance to be a reporter on a newspaper printed twice a week. I loved picking up a copy on publication day and seeing my name.
Halfway through my time on The Collegian the whole team was involved in an investigation into a new computer software programme that had been introduced at the start of the year which had unfortunately caused havoc. My job was to talk to other universities across America about their experiences with using the same system. I enjoyed it very much and it was great to be a part of such a big project. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Fresno which also included some exploring such as trips to Yosemite National Park and Santa Cruz so I was very sad when it was time to go home.
Since then I’ve been back to California every few years to favourite spots and new places in the state which offers so much more than just what we’ve seen in films and on TV.
Yes, there are the sun-kissed beaches and Hollywood glamour that a lot of people will think of as soon as someone says California, but it’s also home to some incredible, vast and varied national parks, amazing wildlife and fantastic food.
Death Valley surprised me the most. My first visit was with my family during July and it was, as you would expect, incredibly hot. The car thermometer registered 117F at one point – thank goodness for air conditioning.
The blistering heat made it impossible to really do much and the dry, seemingly barren landscape didn’t really appear that inviting.
A few years later I returned, this time in November when it was still 30C plus but it was a much more comfortable heat to go walking in. This made me really appreciate what I was seeing.
I was blown away by the different scenery from the colourful rock formations to the salt flats and the sand dunes.
Another national park that has stolen my heart is Joshua Tree. Thanks to U2, I was already familiar with that name although I never knew where it was from. I love photographing these unusual giant branching yuccas and my family and I have enjoyed some great walks around this photogenic park.
I’ve also been fortunate to have encountered a lot of the local wildlife during my trips there such as the elephant seals at San Simeon – I could watch them snoozing on the beach for hours.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to photograph a coyote in Death Valley and sea otters in Monterey while I’ve always had a soft spot for pelicans and Santa Barbara is a great place to get pictures of these characterful birds.
As for food, I can recommend fish tacos at Duckies Chowder House and a walk along the pier in Cayucos.
California really does get under your skin and there is still so much I want to see there. I’ve not ventured too far in the north of the state so I would love to one day do a road trip from Seattle, Washington, down to San Francisco. I better get saving!
Dan Morris: An occasional rant is good for the soul
In my life there are many weird obsessions (I’m quite a strange guy, truth be told), yet one that above all has become a part of me.
Like scores of grumpy old blokes before me, one of my greatest vices and pleasures is shouting at the telly – it is a joy like few others in the world.
Long before Gogglebox became a thing, my father and I developed something of an ‘interactive’ approach to our sessions spent watching our favourite shows together, and it has remained a polished practice of ours every time we sit in front of the TV together to this day.
No matter what we watch (though there are, it has to be said, a number of favourites), our ritual father-and-son time in front of the telly normally involves delicious explosions of outrage at one hapless TV protagonist or another attempting to go about their honest business, yet making various questionable and clumsy decisions along the way.
Carson the butler – of Downton Abbey fame – is often a recipient of our wrath. Patronising, pious and pompous in equal measure, his frequent disparagements of his fellow Abbey-dwellers are met with a stock response from my dad and I as we enjoy frequent re-runs of the now legendary period drama.
The Chase, Who Wants To be A Millionaire? and a pantheon of other quizzes famed for showcasing spectacular slip-ups in general knowledge are also big hitters, and often come under a barrage of fire from the Morris men.
It seems a strange hobby (and a hobby it is), but shouting at the telly is one of the most richly cathartic activities I’ve ever indulged in. Like bashing away at a drum kit or busting a gut at the gym, yelling at the TV is – to me – an exceptional stress reliever, and a wonderful antidote to some of the irritations of daily life. It is especially fun when you have a buddy to do it with you.
The thing is of course, sometimes we all need to blow our tops a bit and have a rant – and better this be done at the television than an innocent bystander. A man of great fortitude, I’m sure that Carson can take it.
An occasional rant at the box is good for the soul – give it a try and you may never go back. Personally, I just can’t wait until the next round of Gogglebox auditions – I’ve got this in the bag.
Caroline Jones: Bring back my beloved Brookside
Quirks, obsessions, strange habits. Whatever you want to call them, I’ve got them. All of them.
I’m odd, really.
I have terrible issues with noisy eaters, slurping drinkers, other drivers, people who think it’s funny to move around the order of my neatly-organised coffee table books, people who think it’s acceptable to steal a chip off my plate. Worse still are those who have the nerve to ask, ‘may I steal a chip?’
No, you mayn’t. Get your own chips.
It’s people in general really, and the things they do can easily send me into a fit of rage / panic.
I wasn’t always so odd. Or was I?
Perhaps when my first obsession, at a very young age, ended in heartache it paved the way for me to be the oddity that I am today.
Before Matt Goss from Bros and Jordan Knight from New Kids on the Block there was Damon from Brookside (anyone under the age of 37 should probably consult Google now).
It was at the age of six that I decided I would one day marry Damon, played by actor Simon O’Brien.
Simon, if you’re reading, I’m now 41 and still waiting. I’m a very patient woman, but it’s getting awkward now.
My Damon crush was at its height around the time of the three-part Damon and Debbie spin off show in 1987. My beloved Damon ran away with his girlfriend Debbie to York to get away from their disapproving parents.
I was devastated when Damon was stabbed by a thug and died in Debbie’s arms. My first real heartbreak – and I’m still not over it.
I would drive my family mad, particularly my older brother, watching this three-parter over and over and over again, hogging the only VHS player in the house as I did so.
Devastation struck all over again when my brother in an act of revenge recorded over my precious VHS tape with his own obsession, Knight Rider. And I’m still not over that either.
My obsession lived on after Damon. It was a love affair with Brookside as a show, must-see viewing following a classic 1980s dinner such as boil-in-the-bag cod in parsley sauce. To this day I still can’t stand fish.
All’s well that ends well though. Fast forward 20 years or so, some time after Channel 4 had put the by then beleaguered Brookside out of its misery, my brother, still feeling somewhat guilty about recording over my favourite show and only lasting memory of my Damon, paid a small fortune on eBay for a copy of the show which he presented to me on my birthday. And if that wasn’t enough of a thoughtful gift, he and some friends organised a surprise birthday outing to the then-abandoned close where the show was filmed. There was no sign of Simon O’Brien with an engagement ring but it was a great day out and brought back some very happy memories of my favourite TV show. We even had a retro 80s picnic – with no sign of any fish.
ITV3 are on the ball with re-runs of classic Coronation Street and Emmerdale. Come on, Channel 4. Bring back classic Brookside – and my beloved Damon.