Thinking Aloud On a Sunday


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…

Ollie and his time clock

Like many countries, we here in the UK are still hanging on to the rather pointless tradition of putting the clocks back in October, then restoring them to their original time in the Spring. This annoying custom means that it is now dark by 5 pm, and I have had to scurry around changing all those timers and watches that don’t automatically correct themselves.

Being a dog, you would think that Ollie has no concept of time. I like to think of him ruled by nature, waking at dawn, and sleeping when it is dark. But that is far from the case. He is a dog ruled by habit. So controlled by his personal routine, and inner ‘dog-clock’, that if he had been human, he would undoubtedly be considered to be on the Autistic Spectrum.

He goes out in the garden first thing. After completing his patrols of the fence, and along the side of the garage, he waits at the top of the patio stairs until one of us (usually Julie) appears in the kitchen to let him in through the back door. He then has breakfast, always a twisty chew thing, that he loves to eat at that time. Once that has been devoured, he follows me around the house, or sleeps, until it is almost midday. At that time, I have a sandwich, and give him some of it, usually the crusts. He also has his midday ‘stick’, a corrugated chew that is supposed to be good for dental health. After that, he dozes until he sees me getting ready for the habitual walk at 2 pm.

His dinner is normally around 5.30, and if it is late, he will keep putting his head on my leg to remind me. After we have eaten, between 7-7.30, he gets a medium-sized liver-flavoured chew, strangely called a ‘Wonky-Chomp’. I say strangely, because it isn’t wonky. He does chomp it though. He will then happily settle for the evening, until his late night trip into the garden, close to 11 pm. The final treat of the day is a hard Bonio, a bone-shaped biscuit, which he always crunches with delight. Some time after that, he might take himself off to his bed in the kitchen, and sleep soundly until morning.

The next day, he does it all again; his own version of ‘Groundhog Day’, that seems to make him happy.

For the first three years that we had him, we marvelled at the way he adapted to the clocks going forward or back. Despite losing or gaining an hour the next day, he stuck rigidly to his schedule, not expecting treats or a walk any earlier, and unconcerned if they were later. He still appeared at midday for his stick, even though it would have only been 11 am, the day before.

But for some reason, his clock has been disrupted this year.

When the clocks went back last weekend, I expected him to perform his usual magic trick of not noticing, and carrying on as normal. But at 11 am on the next day, there he was, asking for his treat, convinced it should really be midday. By 1 pm, he was turning in circles, agitating for his walk, sure in his own mind that it was 2 pm already. And he has continued like that all week, determined to keep his routine the same as before the clocks gained that hour. After three years of appearing to be unconcerned, he has changed his tune.

I would love to be able to ask him why.