The BBC had a television series this year of which only BBC is capable. On Friday evenings during the summer it broadcast Gone Fishing. It seemed an unremarkable title and the sort of programme that BBC 2 might show – catering to a minority interest. The fishing in the programme was incidental, an occasion for comedians Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse to sit on a river bank or in a boat and reflect on the challenges of life and the nature of human existence.
In one episode, Bob Mortimer reflected on the ways of his mother, on the importance of routines, on how daily habits played a part in sustaining good emotional health. He talked about how his mother might go to the shop each day to buy three tomatoes.
Three tomatoes seemed an appropriate symbol of the vital place of ordinariness in daily life. Bob Mortimer’s mum has become someone remembered each day as, each evening, I make my lunch box for the next day at school. A Tunnock’s caramel wafer for break time, cheese and pickle sandwiches for lunch, along with a Cox’s apple and three Majestic tomatoes bought at the Co-op.
Were the tomatoes sold in threes, I might buy them in threes. As it is they come in boxes of six or seven, the Co-op need only be visited every couple of days. However, the tomatoes are a daily reminder of the goodness of the routine things of life, of how precious can be the dull and the mundane.
An aunt, now eighty years of age, would endorse the wisdom of Bob Mortimer’s mum. There are others on the farm who might easily pick up a newspaper for her on their daily journeys, but each morning she gets into her car and drives into our little home town to buy her copy of the Daily Mirror. To be out, to go with a purpose, to do the same thing at the same time each day, to fulfil her objective, these are things important to my aunt, these are things that are sustaining.
As someone who sets the alarm for 5.45 on weekdays and who is awake each morning to hear the 5.30 train to Birmingham rattle through the level crossing; who is in school between 7.00 and 7.15 each day; whose work is regulated by bells; routine is both structure and reassurance. The three tomatoes at lunchtime are a declaration that all is well with the world.
The greatest challenge presented by Christmas is that it disrupts routine – the Co-op is closed and there are no tomatoes to buy.