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Interview: Scott Allsop, AKA 'List Man'

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By M@ Last edited 133 months ago
Interview: Scott Allsop, AKA 'List Man'
Scott with lists.jpg

Last week, we brought you the tale of The Man Who Collects Shopping Lists. Raynes Park resident Scott Allsop (pictured here, with lists literally coming out of his ears) has amassed hundreds of the things. Londonist caught up with him recently to find out…why?

Perhaps you could start by telling us a bit about yourself

I’m a 25-year old history teacher from Raynes Park. I’m originally from Buxton in Derbyshire, but moved here after training as a teacher a year and a half ago. Living in Raynes Park is great as it’s less than 20 minutes to central London, and is within easy commuting distance of the school where I teach in Guildford.

Obvious question, but how on earth did you get into this whole shopping-list thing?

It’s a bit boring really. Last Easter I was at my local Tesco and saw a pink post-it note stuck on a trolley. It was the first time I had ever noticed a list left behind, and thought it would be fun to see what someone else had bought. I found myself starting to analyse the shopper, and from there it just went on as something to make shopping trips a bit more interesting.

Do you write shopping lists for yourself or rely on memory?

Ironically, I’m not a list-writer myself. My girlfriend, Alice, writes lists all the time – and I sometimes use hers – but generally speaking I rely on memory, or just walk around the aisles until I find something I want.

Do you think the obsession with scrutinising other people’s lists stems from your work as a teacher (i.e. you see someone’s handwriting and immediately want to mark it)?

Almost certainly. As a history teacher a lot of my job is about analysing documentary evidence, and a fundamental historiographical question is how much information we can draw from – quite literally – scraps of someone’s life. There’s also my ingrained vendetta against poor spelling and grammar – I get really worked up with improper use of apostrophes!

Have you ever thought of branching out into collecting other kinds of list? (To-do lists, wedding lists…)

Some items in my collection are a bit broader, but my focus really is on shopping. Some of the lists I find do have “to-do” lists on them, and they’re a lot of fun to read, but I don’t think there’s as much mileage in the “detective” side of analysing these as a lot of the work is done for you.

Do people organised enough to make shopping lists generally buy healthy stuff, or are they the types who buy lots of chips and pies?

Even after collecting 270 lists I don’t think I could give a conclusive answer to that. There are some lists that feature amazingly healthy things, but others that scream “heart attack”! There’s also a big mix of people who clearly use a list for their main shopping trip, and others who use them for emergency visits.

What's the weirdest thing you’ve found on a shopping list?

Hmmm. There’s a couple of options. “Hot tongue action” and “Cock” were listed together, but I recently found one that had a “breast pump for Louise”. Someone also wanted a “bottle of small fairy (e.g. Graham Norton)”.

Much, much more after the jump...

What's the most common?

Chicken crops up a lot. I’d never really noticed the frequency with which bread and milk appear, as well, until I began my experiment.

So the latest twist is that you’ve decided to only buy, and eat, the food you find on someone else’s shopping list. Tell us a bit about how that’s going.

Very well! The purpose of the experiment is to put my theories about shopping lists reflecting people’s personalities (or vice-versa) to the test. So I go to the supermarket and buy all the food on the first list I find, and see how it affects me. So far I’ve experienced the delights of salmon on ice cream wafers, and more tinned spaghetti than you can shake a stick at.

What does your girlfriend make of all this? Is she worried about what she’s going to end up with on Valentine’s Day?

She’s amazingly supportive. I’m quite a fussy eater normally, so she’s only too happy to have me experiment with new foods. However, she isn’t taking part in the experiment with me – she’s a kind of “control experiment” to compare normal eating to mine. I’m also hoping to bring the experiment to a close quite soon – I began it at the start of January – and so figure I’ve got enough results by now!

Ever got hold of a celebrity shopping list?

Actually, yes. I was a guest on Richard Hammond’s 5 O’ Clock Show on ITV1 a couple of weeks ago, and Wendi Peters (who plays Cilla in Coronation Street) was on the show. She gave me her list as a bit of a memento, but I’ve yet to add it to my website. I’d love to get some more, though.

If not, perhaps that’s something you could do on your site? Use your knowledge of shopping psychology to speculate on what the great and good might buy down at their local Tescos.

If it’s anything like Wendi’s, they’ll be reassuringly normal. I’d like to see Chris Martin’s though and find out how much Fair Trade stuff he actually buys.

Rooting around on the Interweb, we were surprised to find that you’re not the only person with this hobby. Have you seen this US site?

And then there’s Found. Have you had any contact with these sites and is there something of a community of people who share the hobby?

Yes, I’ve been in touch with Bill Keaggy who runs grocerylists.org a few times. His collection is quite different as he doesn’t comment on the lists and accepts submissions from anyone, but as a result he’s managed to get some fantastic ones. There’s also a guy called Jansen Price (also in the USA) who collects lists, but he doesn’t put them on the web. Found is a brilliant site (and they release some great books, too) but their remit is much broader than only focussing on shopping lists. If you’ve found it, they’ll have it.

You seem to be generating quite a bit of media attention. Was that a surprise?

I guess it’s quite an obscure thing to do, so I can understand why it’s of interest to the media, but considering there’s so much other important stuff going on in the world it amazes me that I’ve received as much attention I have. I still giggle about how a rather daft hobby has generated such interest from people. I was really taken aback by the number of people who have visited my site – and all without me ever actively promoting it. I guess the strangest thing is knowing that the URL to my site has been winging its way around the world on forwarded emails to bored office workers!

In the past few years, there’s been something of a trend for these strange experiments (e.g. Dave Gorman, Danny Wallace, Morgan Spurlock…). Do you get inspiration from any of their stunts, and would you like to follow them onto TV/movies?

I’m a big fan of all the people you’ve listed, but never really made the connection between what they do and what I do. Then again, all their experiments were initially started out of personal interest rather than to be “entertaining”, so I guess there are similarities. It would be fantastic to share the things I’m interested in through other forms of media, but the feedback I get from the site is rewarding enough in itself. If any TV producers want to get in touch, though, I’d happily have a chat!

Given that you have other, let’s say, unorthodox interests (WereBear Directory, tickets collection), do you have any plans for other strange missions or stunts?

I just do what I enjoy doing, and am really flattered by other people wanting to share that with me. The WereBear Directory in particular has been really successful, probably because it’s the only site on the internet with any information about these cult toys from the 1980s, but again I only created the site because it’s something I’m interested in. However, like the Shopping List Compendium, I’m sure there’ll be other things that come up when I least expect it…although my current pub conversations are about the potential in collecting notes that students in class pass around to each other. They’re fascinating!

And the London stuff…

What’s your favourite Pub/bar?

I’m a big fan of Crobar on Manette Street (just off Charing Cross Road). It’s tucked away near The Borderline and only serves bottles, but they’ve got a great range of beers. It’s a fantastically earthy rocker’s pub, and even has Iron Maiden sheet music as wallpaper along with comic books. It just oozes character, and the bar staff are great. Local to me, it’d have to be The Cavern in Raynes Park. It’s got the best jukebox outside my old local in Cambridge, and has wonderful décor.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

Without a doubt, Il Camino – again in Raynes Park. Beautiful Italian cuisine and excellent service, with a very reasonable price-tag to boot. Failing that, Blue Hawaii in Kingston for its sheer craziness.

What’s the best thing about London that not many people know about?

The Capital Ring. It’s an 80-mile long circular walk through parks and common land, that circles the capital. Alice and I are currently in the process of walking it, and have been blown away by the host of new places we’ve discovered as a result.

What’s your favourite view in London?

One that really sticks out was from London Bridge at 3am on a Sunday morning. We had missed the last tube home, and ended up needing to take the night bus right across town. We were waiting on the bridge for an hour before the bus came, and it was the first time I’d really had a chance to see how beautiful the city was, as it was deserted and all the lights were twinkling in the river. I also love the view from the train as you go past Battersea Power station with the London Eye in the background. It’s an amazing mix of Pink Floyd and Dr Who iconography.

The World Is Ending In 24 hours. How Would You Spend Your Last Day In London?

I’d head to the river – probably near Battersea – and simply walk downstream along the southern bank. Everything I’d need would be on that walk.

What Advice Would You Give Ken Livingstone?

Get the over ground train networks to sign up to Oyster. He’s alienating a large number of people from his transport revolution by not doing.

Have you ever been sick on the Tube?

I’ve felt it, but never done the deed.

Last Updated 06 February 2006