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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The New Galvanism

As one gets older habit becomes a comforting shawl. Surprise, on the other hand, can be a draught from an open door.

Habit forces me to watch the 10 pm news, to depend too heavily on semi-colons, to wear only my subfusc shirts, to reject ketchup with hamburgers, to grow my hair long rather than fuss with hairdresser appointments and to re-read thrillers instead of improving novels. Plodding steps towards a Humane Society eulogy (which I’ll probably have to write myself) and one of those basketwork coffins. Half the sparse attendance unable to try the wine “because they’re driving.”

Change, when it happens, comes crabwise. Triggered by an event or situation that is in itself innocuous.

Our cleaning lady is efficient but she bustles, soon after 8 am. Both VR and I retreat to our studies and wait her out while the Dyson roars and the taps splash. Should we retreat further? Outdoors? The idea of deliberately wasting time doesn’t appeal.

Happily our supermarket, Tesco, is part of a giant chain that got things wrong and started to tumble. As the abyss opened change for Tesco was essential. Not before time they chose to revamp our local cafĂ© where, eighteen years ago, we ate the worst meal of our lives. Nothing radical now, except that food is made to order and nothing is left baking under infra-red bulbs. Many seats are upholstered.

I order a small Americano and a bacon roll, VR a latte and something slightly more adventurous. We talk to each other lazily, politely, about non-controversial subjects that interest us both. The crocks are cleared away and still we hang on, ever so slightly reluctant to move. Can a supermarket become a habit?


  1. I do love this, and find it hard to pinpoint why, aside from the identification with the semi-colon thing. I shall endeavour to make your funeral somewhat different from how you describe at least by crying a lot in unexpected places.

    I almost felt inclined to reject our fairly newly-acquired Dyson because said name is Leave-side mud, but then the mother and son cleaning entreprise who descended on us in cheery efficiency today cleaned it up so nicely (you know you can vacuum clean the vacuum cleaner?) I am still inclined to treasure it.

    We were asked out to belated 4th July hamburgers tonight, barbecued even which didn't bother us, and I put all sorts of strange things on mine, in a spirit of trying everything while still alive to do so, including mayonnaise in a sort of toothpaste tube and some kind of unidentifiable relish. Very nice too. There was even very non-French sweetcorn.

  2. Habit?
    Tesco's is a Saturday morning "habit" with us for the weekly shop. I drop off my wife to start her (now very steady) circulation, armed with a list. This she insists on marking off purchases by tearing a nick in it. I have remonstrated in the past that a biro-tick might be better, but this is her "habit" and she ain't gonna change it.
    Having abandoned her I drive a couple of miles to our local baker's shop, a wonderful find some 20 years ago, run by a husband and wife team who work so hard to produce (craft?) the best loaves in the area. I buy two large wholemeal which will last us a week (one frozen for later) and then drive back to Tesco's to circulate the isles until I come across my wife. Since my stroke I very happily take over driving the trolley (I can now understand why the elderly use walking frames with wheels).
    We usually try to engage with a particular check-out assistant who knows us well and my wife usually chats with her whilst I load up the goods as they are checked at the till.
    We never use the supermarket cafe as I think it must have migrated from yours of 18 years ago. If Tesco is really trying to pull up its socks, this should be its next improvement.
    I have not ordered the basket-weave coffin yet............

  3. Lucy: I'm terrifically pleased by the uncertainty in your first sentence since it raises the question: Who do we blog for? Obviously for our blog readers, but by now this is only partially true. As readers fall away we need compensation and I get it by blogging also for myself. Which may be why you found it difficult to pinpoint your reaction.

    In blogging for others the aim is to reveal. But we can't reveal things to ourselves since we know what we're going to say; we must satisfy ourselves in other ways. In this case I chose a deliberately dull subject - habit - hoping the style I adopted and the detail I chose might make it undull. Hubris is just around the corner but might I say these were the aims of the Hazlitt brigade, style being as important as content?

    A blog should ideally provoke responses the author had not foreseen. Which of course you did ("crying a lot in unexpected places"). In fact I was initially startled by imagining you at my funeral since Hereford is a real bastard destination. Then I didn't like the idea of you crying, preferred a fanciful version which sang Schubert lieder and uttered extracts from the better-known WS sonnets, quickly discarded in that crying would be far better evidence of rapport. And in any case you are Lucy and Lucy cries: naturally, creatively and characteristically.

    Imagining you at a barbecue was pleasing because it seemed outside your normal range of activities. I pray for other diversions as you wait to resume Chez Kempton. I suspect the emotions that seem in check at the moment will overflow then, but in a good way.

    Avus: An important aspect of habit is that it should not be immutable. If there's a better, more rewarding way of mobilising our habits this should adopted. There is no real value in the dubious principle: we do it this way because we've always done so. It is quite clear that your supermarket habit has been refined over the years; that it works for you in practical terms rather than mere nostalgia.

    And there's resonance for me in your phrase: "to circulate the aisles until I come across my wife." VR has an unerring talent for disappearing into invisibility among other shoppers. Would Mrs A resent a slowly rotating propellor attached to her head? So far I've not raised this with VR.

    "Ordering" a basket-weave coffin? You see yourself as an artisan; weaving looks like a comparatively simple craft. Verb. sap.

  4. Strangely, Mrs A did not embrace the revolving propellor idea with any hint of enthusiasm, RR. I could suggest she wears her "Sunday Best" jacket in violent red. (Although this might lead to a request for a workaday one too, with inroads to the pension scheme).
    Although I am pretty adept at metalwork and leatherwork I have never tried basket making. I do have John Seymour's wonderful book "The Forgotten Arts" where he says that, "most things that are now packed in cardboard or plastic once came in a basket". Unfortunately willow withies are rather scarce around here. "Shell bodkins" and "beating irons" do not appear in our local B&Q either.
    No matter. I think funerals are for the deceased's family and friends. If I could have my way I would be put into a strong paper sack, tucked into a car boot and delivered direct to the local crematorium (since the municipal tip will not take what is left of me). No service of remembrance would be necessary or required.