An aunt who reached her eightieth birthday in August tells of the importance of daily routines, doing things for the sake of doing them. Every day she drives from the farm on which she lives to the nearby town of Langport to buy a newspaper. She does not need to do so, but says it is a matter of discipline, of keeping up a routine for the sake of it.
Comedian Bob Mortimer would recognize my aunt’s experience. On his recent series of television programmes on fishing he spoke of his mother’s habit of going to the shop everyday. The journey to the shop might only be to buy three tomatoes, but it is a routine that helps sustain her.
The value placed on daily routines recall John Mortimer’s 1980s novel Paradise Postponed. The novel tells the story of the rise of a working-class politician. Being a twenty-something at the time, the routineness of the life described made me smile, but its value now becomes clear. 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.