The Shovel List

Last week I wrote about my slightly odd disposition towards all things Irish. I mentioned my favourite author, Marian Keyes. One of the thousand things I love about Marian is her the use of a “Shovel List” in everyday life. For the uninitiated, the Shovel List is a thorough inventory of all the people/things/concepts Marian comes across day to day that leave her wanting to smack them in the face with a shovel. (Their actual face, or metaphorical face.) As a therapeutic tool, I have adopted the Shovel List many times and found instantaneous relief. Sometimes when I am talking to someone odious, I mentally put the person on my Shovel List as they are annoying me with their words/being alive. It eases the sense of powerless that threatens to overwhelm me against the might of their obnoxious personality.

The items on my particular Shovel List are mainly irrational, minor annoyances. Like most people I know, I get very upset about all kinds of grave and seemingly insurmountable problems like cancer, or homophobia, but issues of such magnitude and complexity do not belong on the Shovel List. The Shovel List is a place for largely groundless hatred, often towards inanimate objects. I find in life, it is the catalogue of daily trifling resentments that can render me suicidal, having built over the course of a day from molehills to mountains. The Shovel List helps dispel all that. The larger things, like terrorism or Parkinson’s disease...well, we all hate them. That’s a given. The big things have no place on the humble SL. At least, not on mine. Marian might have different rules.

I am about to share with you my current Shovel List (in no particular order). I should mention at this point that the Shovel List of another human is exempt from judgement. We are all powerless against our annoyances and should be free to air them without censure.


1. Pulses. Not heartbeats. I mean the foodstuff; beans, lentils, anything that begins with mush under your teeth and ends with flatulence.

2. “Millennium Prayer” by Cliff Richard. If I believed in Satan, I would hold him responsible.

3.  People who call me “yourself” when addressing me (unless they are Irish) or say “going forward”, when they mean “in future”. The "yourself" thing honestly makes me anxious about the future of the human race. 

4. Fancy restaurants. Tiny plates, people wanking on about tastes and obsequious waiters placing napkins on your lap as if the 13 mini courses you’re about to pay the GDP of a small African nation for have rendered you unable to use your HANDS. Aforementioned waiters refilling your glass without your permission at snail’s pace and taking so long that you lose your train of thought and the conversation grinds to an awkward halt until the excrutiating pouring is finished.

5. Books by Tolkien. Film adaptations of books by Tolkien. Plays based on books by Tolkien.

6. People who use the words “top notes” about wine.

7. Unopenable plastic vac packed containers. Ditto ring pulls on tins, cardboard envelopes etc. If I can’t open them without wire cutters at the my age what chance do I have when I’m old and arthritic? 

8. People who are rude to waiters. I have worked as a waitress. (A non obsequious normal-ish waitress, not in fancy restaurants.) Sometimes acquaintances of mine are shitty with waiters or averse to tipping. They are blissfully unaware of their rudeness and the fact that their waiter hates them. I would never even be rude to the obsequious slow pouring waiter in no.4 of this list.

9. The existence and popularity of the “Twilight” series and its affiliates e.g “50 Shades”. 

10. All men that glance even for a millisecond at my tits when I talk to them. I never wear anything cleavage accentuating for this express reason. To the men who do this to women: WE SEE YOU. AND WE THINK YOU’RE A DICK.

11. The smell of rain sodden London buses.

12. People who play their music without headphones on public transport. I have no idea where people got the idea that this is acceptable. 

13. People who put feet on seats, domestic or public, without first removing their shoes. Two words: dog shit. 

14. Soup. It’s not food. It’s not drink. It’s often lumpy. There are connotations of vomit.

15. Instrument bores. String players who wank on endlessly about their instrument. BORE OFF.

16. “The Apprentice”. This programme makes me feel bleak inside. It also spawned the career of this woman. 


17. Katie Hopkins. Princess of DarknessDespite being a) awful b) batshit, she manages to make ends meet by being herself on television and in print. She's itching for the shovel.

18. Women who strip entirely naked in changing rooms for an inappropriate length of time. Put away your growler. Definitely don’t make idle chit chat with said growler on display.

19. People who say “Keenya” when they mean “Kenya”. I know two people that say this. One of them also pronounces “pizza” as “pittsa”, you know, with a short “i” sound. I cannot comprehend this level of poshness.

20. Downton Abbey.

21. People who read kindles/papers while walking down the street/around tube stations in rush hour. In London. What is the MATTER WITH YOU?

22. Porridge. People who tell other people to eat porridge. The world of 12 step recovery is lousy with these people. They are well meaning. However, I cannot eat wallpaper paste for breakfast.

23. Football supporters who say “we lost” and “we’re transferring whats-his-face at the end of the season” like it is in fact them that has won the game or made the transfer decision rather than the players/management. SHOVEL. FACE.

24. People who blithely correct the grammar of other people to their face, as if they are not breaking social convention and being a total penis. Do the human race a solid and resist the urge to say, “actually, it’s to whom.”

25. Peter Hitchens. *reaches for shovel*

26. 4 x 4s that are not purchased expressly for dealing with difficult terrain. 

27. The sound of finger clicking. The friction that makes the "click" between thumb and finger skin is like nails down a blackboard to me. Not sure why. Last year I went on a tour where the entire band had to click along with a track for a good 6 minutes. Luckily I was wearing in-ear monitors, but still. SHOVEL.

28. The high pitched screeching sound of cleaning rosin off stringed instruments with dusters. Esp: fiddles players. I grant you, this one is bit niche.

29. Circle jerk jazz solos. People exclaiming “yeah!” during said solos. Also, music induced overbites. There is no excuse for this.

30. Charity muggers. I have been known to run, fake phone calls and pretend I speak no English to avoid these persistent bib-wearing weasels.

31. Hipster fashion blogger topknots. Shoreditch's answer to the Croydon facelift.

32. People who take flash photography during intimate gigs. In the front row. Get bent.

33. Tuna. All tuna. Fresh, canned, in water, in brine..... Wish I liked it but the truth is, it makes me gip.

34. Praise retweeters. A social media crime.

35. The works of Delius. Sorry. I’ve tried.

36. How loud the sirens of the emergency services are now. Before anyone has an epi at my selfishness, I know for a FACT that they are louder now than they were 10 years ago. Sure there’s a good reason for this but come ON. I live in South London. The rozzers are omnipresent and I’m being sonically ear raped on a thrice daily basis.

37. Virgin train announcers who like the sound of their own voice so much that they list the entire contents of the astronomical buffet car menu, including crisp flavourings and different types of peanuts. SHUT UP. We all went to M and S before we got on the train.

38. All sniffing, hawking and throat clearing. Totally unreasonable, I know. I can’t help it.

39. Every single atomic particle that is associated with the existence of “Made in Chelsea”.  

40. White chocolate. A sickly waste of my time.

41. This is controversial, but I’m not good with the theatre. I’ve seen some great plays with amazingly talented actors. But the acting taking place in real life in front of my face sometimes makes me want to eat on own fists with mortification. Particularly sex scenes. Oy. (I know this makes me a philistine.)

42. Most wedding registrars. I’ve played at lots of weddings and am yet to meet a normal registrar without a bad perm, a weird voice or a penchant for saying things. very. slow-ly. and. clearly. with. big. gaps. for…………………………………………..emphasis.

43. People who pronounce tissue and issue with an sssssss sound. Similarly don’t say, “see-oootcase” when you mean “suitcase”.

44. The smell of Red Bull. It smells of human arse. Why does no one talk about this?

Me, documenting one of my worst nightmares. 

Me, documenting one of my worst nightmares. 

45. Having my hair and makeup done by another person. Apart from fellow ex-Raven, Steph who does a lovely smoky eye. (Top of Steph’s Shovel List: the word “body” said in Scottish accent. Makes her CRINGE.) Have cut/dyed own hair for years now. Don’t even mind if it looks like my mum did it with a basin and nail scissors. Cannot pay someone to touch my head. A smear test would be less intimate.

46. Women who render themselves incapable due to fake nails. The sound of the clacking of fake nails. It honestly makes me doubt the capabilities of entire female population when I see an impractical manicure.

47. People who say “nom nom” on social media when talking about food. Even ironically. This must not stand.

48. Twitter trolls/horrible youtube commenters.

49. Frequent unwanted emails from companies you may have bought a bra from once. I’m looking at you, Bravissimo. I have clicked ‘unsubscribe’ AT LEAST 15 times.

50. Printers. Someone somewhere must invent one that works EVERY TIME YOU USE IT.

I’m stopping at fifty, but to be honest. I could go on. For anyone worrying about my negative mental state, I can do a list of 50 things that I love just as easily, but it makes for boring reading. “Sunshine” “Mountains” “My family” “Welsh rarebit”.... Blargh. Nobody wants to see that.

The Shovel List is a powerful tool when bonding with someone. There is nothing more satisfying than someone agreeing wholeheartedly with an item on the SL. My husband and I noisily hate a lot of the same things. Like most couples, we are united partly by common interests, but it’s our common hatreds that make me look at Mr C and think “You sir, are the only person on the planet to whom I could possibly pledge my troth.” I don’t mean this is in a smug married way. In a purely practical sense, if I was with a man who disagreed with me when ranting about one of the items on my Shovel List, we would surely be divorced within weeks, on the perhaps accurate grounds that I am an intolerant lunatic.

It is of great comfort to me when I’m on the phone to a call centre trying to pay the EDF bill or renew an insurance policy, that when the customer service person on the other end of the phone inevitably says, “Could I do anything else for yourself today?” I can mime shooting myself in the face with a Kalashnikov and Mr C will mouth from across the room, “Did they say, ‘yourself?’” before mime slitting his own throat in solidarity. Making phone calls to those people makes me unutterably depressed about the state of the human race. The fact that they are trying to sound more formal or helpful or whatever the feck they think they’re achieving by calling me “yourself” whilst heinously overcharging me is enough to send me spiralling into a morass of despair. Mr C, unlike most people, who would tell me to shut up and get on with it, empathises with me 100 percent. He does not try and make me be more reasonable in my reaction because he has the same one, which is enough to pull me out of the abyss and feel less alone in the world.

My musical spouse, Kirsty, who I’ve been performing with since I was eight, knows my Shovel List all too well, and I hers. Kirsty is a generally tolerant and compassionate person which is why it’s so brilliant to see her get wound up about very specific things. For instance, Kirsty hates, to the extent of visible, physical repulsion, the word “rub”. She hates everything about it, from the slightly sleazy sexual connotation to the shape your mouth has to make to phonetically form the word. It takes every bit of restraint she has not to baulk when someone innocuously says, “Give it a rub” when she has banged her shin on a coffee table. A mutual item on mine and Kirsty’s Shovel List is the word “vibe” or variations thereof, e.g “vibey” - as in, “yeah it was a great venue. Really vibey”, or “vibed” as in “I love the way you guys just vibed together on stage”. The music business is lousy with people using the word vibe with no sense of irony, as if it is in fact, 1967. The other one that is used in the classical world is “organic/organically”, which if you’re not talking about produce, is unbearably wanky. Conductors say things like “let that phrase grow organically” and musicians playing for them nod politely, muttering, “so you mean ‘get louder’ then. Pompous gobshite,” under their breath. Or is that just me?

Me and Kirst. She is smiling because no one has said "rub" or zested a lemon in her presence.

Me and Kirst. She is smiling because no one has said "rub" or zested a lemon in her presence.

Another very specific item on Kirsty’s Shovel List is the outer peel of citrus fruit. She refuses to eat anything containing zest, not even Christmas pudding with crystallised orange peel. The very concept of eating the raw and pithy hide of a fruit makes her stomach lurch in alarm. Recently she became uncharacteristically furious over the presence of lemon peel in an Ottolenghi salad she’d bought to eat before a show. She’d looked forward to it all afternoon but nearly flipped a table with rage after her first bite. “Why the fuck have they ruined it with lemon zest?” she shouted to the non-plussed band room. “It’s all I can fucking TASTE!” It took a bucket of tea to cleanse her palate and calm her down. I LOVE that I know this about her. And now lucky readers, you do too. 

So please dear readers, share your Shovel Lists with me, or your loved ones, or your behavioural therapists. It will do you the power of good.