It being Wednesday, I phoned my mother at seven o’clock, went to Sainsbury’s for the weekly shopping, and then made my lunch for tomorrow. Lunch is always similar, a round of mature Cheddar and Branston Pickle sandwiches, three tomatoes, a Tunnock’s caramel wafer and an apple. Once lunch is complete, the box is put into my school bag and the bag is put into the boot of my car. I then put two Weetabix in a bowl and a Yorkshire Gold teabag into a mug for breakfast. Then I set out my clothes for tomorrow, a shirt to match the jacket and trousers, a tie to match the shirt, shoes to match the clothes. Should any of these routines be neglected, I would become discombobulated for the day.
The value I place on the repetition of daily routines always recalls John Mortimer’s 1980s novel Paradise Postponed. The novel tells the story of the rise of a working-class politician. Reading it while still in my twenties, I remember that the routineness of the life described made me smile, but its value has become clear in latter years.
Leslie Titmuss, the rising star describes his home life:
“I went to the village school,” he told them. “Then I got a scholarship to Hartscombe Grammar. Weekends I used to go out on my bike and help people with their gardens. I grew up to understand the value of money because it took my father five years to save up for our first second-hand Ford Prefect. Every night he finishes his tea and says to my mother, “Very tasty, dear. That was very tasty.” He always says the same thing. He falls asleep in front of the fire at exactly half past nine and at ten-thirty he wakes up with a start and says, “I’ll lock up, dear. Time for Bedfordshire!” Always the same. Every night. Just as he got up to go to work at exactly the same time every morning for forty years.
“Could any person in real life be as predictable as George Titmuss?” I thought. Surely, real life could not be so routine?
The very routineness of life, the repetition of the same things and the same words has about it a reassuring quality. Perhaps being a creature of habit is boring; alternatively, perhaps it is about being secure, about being content with life with its gentle rhythms and familiar patterns.
For centuries, people lived lives entirely governed by the rhythm of the agricultural year and no-one thought less of them for it. Perhaps the gentle, dull and inoffensive George Titmuss understood life much better than I imagined.