Ollie woke me up at 5:20 this morning. He was sitting on his bed in the kitchen, barking at something. Beetley was dark and still, so I have no idea what disturbed our dog. But he kept barking until I got up to let him out, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep.
So for some reason, I ended up thinking about routine. I call it that, but I suppose you could also refer to it as habit. After leaving school, I was employed in various jobs for forty-three years, until I retired at the age of sixty. For over thirty-three of those years, I worked shift patterns. Now you might think that shift patterns disrupt routine, but I am here to tell you that they don’t. They do the opposite, by making you live your life to a routine, even if it is one that changes on a daily basis.
I would have my shifts entered in a diary, by the end of December each year. I could easily see what shift I would be working on any given day, and whether or not I was working on my birthday, over Christmas, or how many weekends I was scheduled to be on duty. Unless it was a period of holiday leave, I knew exactly where and when I would be, on almost every single day of the year to come. This cannot fail to instill a sense of routine into your everyday life, as well as in your thoughts and behaviour.
So for decades, I followed those shift rotas as part of my working life, as well as enduring the impact they had on my social life. By the time I was in my fifties, I started to count down the years until I could retire at sixty, knowing how much I anticipated shaking off the shackles of a lifetime of routine. I moved away from London, retired to the country, and stopped thinking about what day it was, what time it was, and whether or not it was a weekend. Strangely, it wasn’t that easy to shake off the habits of a lifetime, and I developed new routines instead.
I started to go shopping on the same day every week, even though it didn’t matter a jot which day I actually went to the supermarket. I decided that Monday was a quiet day. Less customers, easier to park, and longer sell-by dates on products. That was it, Mondays were cast in stone.
Then I got a dog.
If I thought I had suffered a life of routine before, the arrival of Ollie made me realise I was merely a beginner. I began to structure my day around him, once I discovered that he didn’t like to go out early in the morning, and preferred an afternoon walk. I did what I had to do before midday, then stopped for a lunchtime sandwich. Even that became a routine, as I had (and still do) the same thing every day. A ham and cheese sandwich, with granary bread, toasted. I have tried to break the habit by occasionally having a bacon sandwich, or perhaps eggs. But I keep coming back to that ham and cheese, try as I might to avoid it. Then I have a bath, shave, and get dressed, ready to take Ollie out.
Later that day, I go into the kitchen to prepare what we will be eating for dinner, and give Ollie his meal, usually at 5:15 pm. He has come to expect it, adjusting his own routine to mine automatically. Then I time our diner for 7 pm, again the time that I have decided I prefer to eat it. I always wash up the plates and pans as soon as we have finished eating, as I like to have that sense of a ‘free’ evening, and don’t like to leave dirty plates and utensils piled up in the kitchen. So between 8 pm and bedtime, I watch TV or a film, reply to some blog comments, and start to wind down before 11 o’clock comes. Any time after 11 is considered suitable to go to sleep these days, and I am rarely up and awake after midnight.
So I ended up thinking about it today, and thought about changing it.
Breaking the mould, setting myself free, and possibly doing something completely different.
I might have a bacon sandwich, instead of ham and cheese.
Come on, it’s a start…