I’m no petrol head but like most of us (?) enjoy driving, so was intrigued when I saw a question in a magazine about whether one should use the car brakes to slow down or change down a gear and use the engine to brake. I had been taught to use the engine as it was safer and produced less wear on the brake pad. So I was surprised that, with the advent of disc brakes, the perceived wisdom is now to use the brake … and not the engine. Old habits die hard, so I remain deaf to this new advice!
Got me thinking about how habits scope our behaviour … and wondered what other habits I had that belonged to the last century (and why not?!) Gosh, so many, but one or two stand out from the crowd! For those of you who sometimes judge me to be hypocritical … and talk of glass houses and stones … or pots and kettles and the colour black …. I’m only human!
I am a morning person. I love getting up early; it feels good to occasionally see the dawn. When Tom my Labrador was alive, in his last year (2011/12) I used to get up at 0520 to walk him, before going off at 0610 to the 0630 Bikram Yoga class. There were not many people about, and we always passed an oldish chap, walking with a rolling gait, on our way and said “Good Morning!”. No response – nothing; but I persevered! After 3 months he eventually said: “Er’! Yer not English, are yer?” “Well, actually I am, from the West Country.” I said, rather affronted!! “Well, I’m a Londoner and no one says ‘good morning’!!” “Well, I do!” …. and we said hello and from then on we both felt good at acknowledging each other! A cheery “Good morning!” never hurt anyone, except those whose head hurt from too much wine the night before. In the institutional setting of the Officers’ Mess dining room, it was not ‘done’ to say ‘Good Morning’ – and the breakfast crowd hid behind their newspaper. The paper was placed on a wooden stand, rather like a music stand, thoughtfully provided by the Mess in front of their place. Celina’s father has a similar tale of an Oxford college’s lecturers’ accommodation; “Good Grief, man, Sssshhhhh!!” Even in our morning Bikram session, the teacher’s enthusiastic ‘Good Morning!’ is often met at best with a grunt!
An old habit of mine that has driven my early mornings for many years is to have three boiled eggs for breakfast. I love the ritual of correctly cooking them, of cracking the shell with a teaspoon, the wonderful deep yellow of the gooey yolk – and the salt & black pepper!! Can’t have a boiled egg without salt. I have however dispensed with the ‘soldiers’! For those readers unfamiliar with English habits, traditionally a boiled egg came with fingers of buttered toast that looked like soldiers on parade. You could dunk the ‘soldier’ into the soft yolk and eat; yum! yum! (In Australia they make ‘marmite’ soldiers.) On Northcote Road in Battersea there was even a café called ‘The Boiled Egg and Soldiers’!
Why do they make a cover to fit over the loo seat (sorry, I hate the word ‘toilet’ although it was very socially acceptable to use ‘lavatory’. Maybe it still is!!?)? They make a cover so that the place for one’s daily deposit is covered; never sure how some people don’t develop some very basic standards here …. but there you go. So why do some people leave the loo seat UP and not down? Our local Bikram studio fitted one of those self-closing lids ….. to the men’s loo. This is somehow sexist, isn’t it? Is it only men that leave the seat up? I don’t think so! Anyway, I can’t abide a raised loo seat, so wherever I am, in someone’s house, in a restaurant or even a motorway service station loo ….. and I find the loo seat up, I ensure it’s down when I leave. So if you unexpectedly find the loo seat in a motorway service station down, you know I may have been there recently!! …. And I think this is a good habit!
Then there are “Thank you letters”. This is such a generational thing, this need to say ‘thank you’ properly. You read about it in agony columns (what? You think I don’t occasionally read an agony column? Well, very, very occasionally). A grandmother moaning that their carefully chosen gift to their grandchild has gone unacknowledged. Asking whether she should simple stop sending a present! Then there’s the ‘After Supper’ note. I was always led to believe that if you use a knife and fork in someone else’s home, you should write a note of thanks; ie after cocktails, no – after a meal, yes! Is email OK? Better than nothing and in some countries where the postal service is abysmal maybe the better option. But a manuscript note is best, simply expressing gratitude at their efforts. Some people have come to dine with us, clearly enjoyed themselves and not a squeak of appreciation … nothing .. da nada … niente!
Someone close to me has kept all of his bank statements, I mean all, ever since he first started banking; what he will do as more and more banks dispense with paper statements and go digital I don’t know. But it’s worth keeping a monthly check, isn’t it? So, back in the last century, when I eventually mastered an Excel Spreadsheet, I created one of my income and expenditure. So ever month I take the figures off my bank statement and put them into the spreadsheet, making sure the figures correlate. But then what? What do you mean? That’s it! They all check out, and I’m happy. Do I use the data in any other way? No! Er! So why do you do it? I need to keep a handle on my finances! This is a habit I sense I should just give up, the spreadsheet I mean, but I am wedded to it.
Just some mumblings on this first day of May.
Richard Yates – email@example.com