De-pressurising


As it happens it’s been a beautiful day today, first day out of the shop. There’s a serene blue sky and the calm, clear light that makes you believe in a higher being. For the first time in months I’ve walked around in a t-shirt.

I woke this morning thinking I had things I had to start in on. Most of those things relate to getting my life heading off in another, productive, direction. That’s a big thing. The smaller thing was that I had to get some routine in my life.

Routine is underrated. There is a time I would have turned my nose up at it. Routine seemed too mundane for such a free spirit like me. But then your life is thrown into disarray, and you realise how much the simple routines in your life have given you.

I’ve come to understand that the habits and routines we repeat daily are a kind of home. It’s natural for someone to return from a long journey away and feel comforted to be in their home environment again. Everything is in its familiar place, and it’s yours. Routines are like that, but they are of time and place. They create order in our life, a structure within which we live. Without thought we follow what have become the rituals that define the prosaic nitty-gritty of how we live – when we have coffee, and at what cafe; the train we catch in the morning, the person we nod to; the favourite TV show we sit down to each week with a happy sigh; when we mix a drink, or start dinner – the music we listen to it as we do it. Even the practical realities of when we go to the grocery store, or put out the rubbish. There is comfort in routine, and an unconscious sense of security.

While it’s all very humdrum, it’s all very real – and when you don’t have it you miss it. Most of my old routines have been smashed apart. The few remaining I cling to like jetsam in a raging sea. There are few new routines because little of my life has allowed it. There has been little pattern, and though most of my days have been dull there are no two the same.

I’m a long off from re-establishing any meaningful routines. I need my own home for that properly, and a proper job would help. What I have now is time, suddenly. There are little routines I can get going, and perhaps there are things now that I can catch up with. This is my first day though of relative freedom and I’m a little confused by it.

One routine I’ve established is my morning coffee. Back in the day I’d rock up to my favourite cafe either on the way to work, or half an hour into it, wearing my suit and maybe my tie and order my morning latte and exchange banter with the barista who has come to know me, and my order, by rote. I can look forward to that perhaps, but for now what I do is get into the car and away from the chaos of the house and will find a cafe – there are about 4 I choose between – to sit with a latte, a newspaper, and perhaps my twitter feed, watching the world go by. While it lasts, about 40 minutes, it’s as close as I get to peace.

I did that this morning. I came back and emptied out the car of the stuff I had taken from the shop. I made calls to people in response to the news on my shop. I sent an email to the proposal guy and confirmed a meeting on Friday. I put a load of washing on. And then I sat down and read. This was luxury. Talk about routines. I used to read EVERY night before going to sleep. Now, never. I’ve been too busy otherwise, or not found a peaceful nook to read in. Today I had the house to myself and read for hours, finishing the book (a good one – Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegelman – would make an excellent movie.)

Then there was the sunshine. I wandered out in it in my shirtsleeves. Rigby followed, frolicking, delighted to have daddy about for a change. It felt so serene that you are made to think that it can’t last. I gazed about, feeling the pleasant warmth on my skin, thinking, this is free at least, and how lucky are we…

That’s it today. Think as today as if I was coming up from the deep. De-pressurising. Tomorrow I have to get back into it proper. The real stuff begins.

Now it’s time to walk the dog.

Filling in the blanks


This morning I lay in bed with the sun streaming in through the window reading Saturday’s newspaper. On the table beside me was a fresh made latte, and on the other side of me Rigby lay happily resting close by his dad. This is pretty standard, a scene repeated in one way or another hundreds of times over the last 15 years.

The pattern extends to how I read the paper. I’m up by about 8 to collect the plastic wrapped newspaper from outside. This is Rigby’s job, and one he delights in. He quickly observes that I’m about to go out, and bounds ahead of me as I open the front door. The newspaper will be there lying in the driveway and he’ll grab it hungrily, looking back at me with his tail wagging in anticipation. Sometimes – often – he’ll drop it momentarily to go sniff at something, or wander part way down the road, before returning to grasp the newspaper again and precede me through the front door.

With coffee made and paper freshly unfurled I’ll scan the front page of the newspaper to check the headlines, and read anything of immediate interest. Then, like many a man across the globe, I’ll turn to the sports section and read it from front to back. After that I’ll read the news exhaustively, and then begin on the feature articles – the magazines I’ll get to later in the day.

Much as I enjoy this ritual there comes a time when naturally I become restless. The clock has ticked a little past 9, and my coffee is drunk. Part of my mind begins to look ahead: what am I doing today? It begins scheduling things, an easy task as I tend to follow a pattern in that regard too. Unless there is some extraordinary event ahead I’ll generally get up, pad around a bit checking email, having a light breakfast, before showering and heading off up the road on foot to the local shops.

That is ahead of me still though, as that part – a small part – of my mind ponders that I continue to read, unwilling as yet to commit to anything. I need, I know, a transition – a staging point –  into the day proper.

I felt that again this morning, and for one of the first times ‘since’ actually considered what that meant to me. You do so many things in life in a state of semi automation that it comes as a jolt sometimes to step back and observe the mechanics of it. In this case the jolt has come about because of a fundamental change in routine. What was there before is no longer, and I’m at a loss without it.

In the past, through much of the last 15 years, I would put my paper down and pick up the phone. More often than not I would call my mum. I was hardly aware of it then, but looking back now it seems very much a part of the ritual. I wonder if mum came to expect my Saturday morning calls – I suspect she did. I would call, generally, without anything particular to discuss. I might tell her of what happened during the week (though we would have spoken one or two times during it), and report what my weekend held. Like the best conversations our conversation would take off in different directions, unbound by any particular convention. She would listen to anything and everything I said, gratefully I think, and with the love I feel more now that it’s gone than I did when it was all around. We would speak like that for anything up to 30 minutes, at which point I was good to get up and enter the world again.

Naturally none of that has happened since she died in March. I’ve missed many things since then, but this less so because I had no real routine to speak of. The last 9 months have been a time of great flux and unpredictability. I’ve been without a home, my life has been boxed up and in storage, and the routines of before where on hiatus.

Now I am back in my own space again, and settling slowly into a familiar groove that I am made to feel the absence of things that were just there. No doubt I took it for granted. The thing is though, you miss most when they’re gone the very things you expected without anticipation. So it is now.

This morning then I felt a little lost. There were others I could have called, but the conversation would have been different. And wrong. I wanted that easy, familiar conversation that I still can’t quite believe is gone forever. Life is like that now. There’s the shock of mum becoming ill, of her dying, but it’s the little things that bite. Even after this time it seems strange that she is gone from us forever now, and awful when I am forced to think of it in those terms.

Perhaps I need to make a new routine. Inevitably that will occur. For now it’s like a familiar picture hanging on the wall that has had huges swathes erased from it. I’m still managing the blank spots. In time I’ll paint them in again with something new, but for now they remain empty.

Time for my shower.