WHEN I WAS at school I had a friend who used to dread Monday nights. That is because his mum always made egg and chips on a Monday. She was a poor cook and he didn’t like eggs much anyway.
It always used to amuse me that he knew exactly what meal he was going to get on any particular night (Tuesday was lamb chops, Wednesday was Shepherd’s pie, can’t remember Thursday but Friday was challah followed by roast chicken, obviously).
At the time, I thought this kind of routine was suburban and bourgeois (I used to talk like that when I was 16). I decided that I would never fall into this kind of mindless routine. My father, on the other hand, though not a particularly religious man, used to enjoy both ritual and routine. He liked making kiddush on Shabbat and he had withdrawal symptoms if there was no cold fried fish on Friday nights. I made a mental note that when I was in charge of making the dinner, we would have stir fry one Friday, curry the next, and teriyaki chicken the one after.
This is more or less what happens. I am no slave to ritual; or routine. I live a free, bohemian existence (as much as one can live a free and bohemian existence with a mortgage and two kids in a terraced house in Palmers Green).
Then a week ago, I started thinking a week about my daily habits. I realised that actually my existence is seriously affected by rituals and routines.
Take chewing gum, for example. When I first worked in a non-smoking office in the late ’80s, I started to chew sugar-free gum to ease my nicotine pangs during the long stretch between 9.30 and lunchtime. Then, early in 1995, I stopped smoking, so no need for the gum any more. However, I still chew gum while I am at work, particularly when I am concentrating on writing. But I never chew in the evenings or over the weekend when I am able to smoke (but of course don’t). The only exception to this rule is when I go to see Chelsea when I have to chew one piece of gum in the first half and one in the second half, because I did this once and we won. I also wear whichever is my lucky replica shirt, (this depends on whether we won the previous game). At a cup final a few years back, I could not decide which shirt was luckiest, so I ended up going to Wembley wearing all three.
If it’s not chewing gum, it’s Diet Coke. I have to get one can (always a can, never a bottle) on the way to work every day. I have read in many places about the perils of Aspartame and phosphoric acid used in its manufacture but I can do nothing about it. I need a can a day. If I lead a long and healthy life, I will no doubt become a scientific study.
Even my rule about never having the same meal on the same day every week has taken a battering — literally. For reasons too long and uninteresting to go into, Thursday night has become fish and chips night round at ours. It has got the point where we feel bereft if there is not a nice piece of haddock on the table come dinner time.
Then there is the cappuccino on Friday morning. I don’t know why I buy one on a Friday and no other day, but I do. This probably explains why I am so exhausted by Friday evening. By the time I have sipped Diet Coke, chewed gum, blown the froth off a cappuccino and avoided the cracks in the pavement, I barely have enough energy to make a curry.
Perhaps I’ll buy a challah on the way home and pop a chicken in the oven instead.